PHILADELPHIA – As Billy Hoyle’s girlfriend once told him in ‘‘White Men Can’t Jump,’’ sometimes you actually win when you lose and sometimes you lose when you think you’ve won.
So which one was it in the Timberwolves’ 103-94 loss at Philadelphia on Friday?
The defeat maintains their grasp on the NBA’s worst record (8-38) and for now solidifies their chances to win May’s lottery and the right to draft Duke’s Jahlil Okafor first overall in June.
It all defied the odds by making the Wolves, along with Detroit, the only teams this season to lose not once but twice to a 76ers team that started the season by losing a near-record 17 consecutive games. Philadelphia broke that streak by beating the Wolves at Target Center Dec. 3.
The Wolves’ eight victories are one fewer than New York’s nine and Philadelphia’s 10. The three teams are separating themselves from the pack in the chase for multiplied lottery odds and the chance to draft Okafor, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, China-based Emmanuel Mudiay or possibly Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell.
While the games roll on, poetic Wolves fans take to Twitter with lottery-minded rallying cries such as “Lose More for Okafor,” “Lay Down for Towns” or “Let the Rookies Play for Mudiay.”
Wolves center Nikola Pekovic, for one, wasn’t laughing after Friday’s latest loss.
“It’s really tough, it’s really tough, it’s really tough for us to play,” Pekovic said when asked about owning the NBA’s worst record. “I mean, nobody wants to be last. Everybody wants to win games. I think that’s why you play sports, because you like to win. Why otherwise? You can work at office and have a regular job, go finish your paperwork and go home. You don’t have to win anything. That’s why we play sport, because we like to win, we like to compete. We’re born competitors.
“I still believe in this team. I still believe we have lot of pride to show. Hopefully Ricky [Rubio] is coming back soon, but it’s just a tough season when you’re missing guys.”
Rubio’s return could be as soon as Monday, but Pekovic lamented a disjointed season in which his team has adapted to lineups that change nightly because of injuries, starting point guard Zach LaVine’s sprained ankle the latest.
On Friday, the Wolves allowed the NBA’s lowest-scoring offense 61 first-half points. Sixers guard Michael Carter delivered a 17-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist triple double. They also let the Sixers build a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead after LaVine sat out most of the game’s final 18 minutes.
Afterward, Wolves coach Flip Saunders again noted his team’s lack of “urgency” and patience. LaVine’s absence limited the team’s offense because with Mo Williams out injured, newcomer Lorenzo Brown knows few plays and concepts. Saunders criticized a defense that at times made the 76ers look unstoppable.
“Terrible,” Saunders said. “They made shots, but you can’t give them shots. I’m disappointed. Even though we beat them on the boards, I think they played harder than us.”
Pekovic scored 16 points by halftime, when his team trailed just 61-59, but scored just two points after intermission and didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter.
“That’s something that’s really not for the press,” Pekovic said. “That’s something we should talk between us in the locker room. I didn’t get the ball much, but that’s probably not the reason why we lost, that’s for sure.”
Philadelphia decided the game with a 10-1 run to open the fourth quarter. But Pekovic considered the game lost in the first half.
“You know, there’s no bad team in this league,” Pekovic said. “Who’s going to miss an open layup or three-point shot? You can miss once or twice, but you can’t miss all game. We let them beat us in the first half.”