PHILADELPHIA – Together, they have no definitive answers, but just like you the Timberwolves wonder why they have fared so well in Western Conference play and struggled so against the East.
“I don’t know,” Wolves forward Nemanja Bjelica said. “It’s a good question.”
So accomplished against Western teams, the Wolves now are 12-17 against the East after they overcame New York to win 108-104 Friday night before losing 120-108 at Philadelphia on Saturday.
The Wolves are positioned well for playoff tiebreakers because of a 30-15 record in the West that includes a 9-4 mark against Northwest Division opponents. But they have also lost to every team in the East except for the Knicks, a list that includes Atlanta, Orlando, Brooklyn and Chicago.
That’s quite a feat considering they play Eastern teams only twice each season.
“I wish I knew,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked why.
He attributes some of it to such November losses to Indiana, Detroit, Miami and Washington when the Wolves played without either Jimmy Butler or Jeff Teague.
Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins is baffled as well, but he proposed a theory.
“No idea,” he said. “Maybe a different style of play.”
“There are more teams now in the East playing the Western style,” Thibodeau said. “When you look at the way teams are playing — four out, one in; pressure on the rim; drive-and-kick; multiple pick-and-roll players — it’s not uncommon to see three guards on the floor in either conference.”
Doormats no more
Remember when the 76ers were the NBA’s laughingstock not that long ago? Well, now they are closing in clinching a playoff spot and reaching 50 victories isn’t completely inconceivable.
Saturday’s victory gave them a six-game winning streak and a 42-30 record.
“It’s not where my head is at,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said about just making the playoffs. “It’s further along than that. We want home court in the playoffs. It could be [seeded] fourth. It could be third. But we want home court. We’re all kind of greedy. Not so long ago we were going to be thrilled with making the playoffs.
“Now that’s not really good enough and we want more. We should want more.”
Fighting size with size
While injured star Jimmy Butler remains out, interim starting small forward Bjelica’s 6-10 size, in theory, should have given the Wolves a fighting chance against a Sixers team that has a 6-10 point guard (Ben Simmons) and a 7-2 center (Joel Embiid) who shoots threes.
It didn’t quite work out that way, though.
“You have to have size against them,” Thibodeau said. “But they have the ability, the versatility to play big and small. When you have those types of players, in many ways it’s position-less.
“What is Ben? I don’t know. He’s a basketball player. He can play all five positions and that is unique. Embiid, same thing as Karl [Anthony-Towns]. That puts a lot of pressure on you.”
Not so fast …
The Wolves were delayed three hours arriving in Philadelphia after Friday’s game in New York because of their chartered plane’s mechanical issues.
A month after they stayed overnight in Houston and flew home to Minnesota on a game day, the Wolves eventually flew the Buffalo Sabres’ plane to Philadelphia and arrived at their hotel around 3 a.m.
“It’s all good,” Thibodeau said.
• Newly signed Wolves guard Derrick Rose missed his second consecutive game because of a sprained ankle suffered Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
• Golden State superstar Stephen Curry’s knee injury diagnosed Saturday as a Grade 2 knee MCL sprain is one grade worse than the Grade 1 Wolves point guard Jeff Teague suffered in December. Teague missed seven games because of that sprained MCL.