Chris Finch smiled when asked the familiar question.

A few weeks ago, the Timberwolves used the phrase "final stages'' when describing Karl-Anthony Towns' recovery from his calf injury.

Tuesday night, before the Wolves played the 76ers at Target Center, Finch was asked for an update. That's when he smiled and said, "He's in the final stages. He's doing some basketball activities now, which is good to see. Still no real timetable for him.''

Assessing injuries from outside a team's secretive sphere can be impossible. Characterizing injuries in the NBA, where agents and players can wield more power than general managers, can be risky for teams trying to prove that they are player-friendly.

Since Towns injured his calf early this season, the Wolves, Towns and Towns' camp have been secretive about his status. Now we are approaching the Ides of March and the interested parties are treating Towns' injury status like it's a matter of national security.

Are the Wolves bowing to Towns' wishes? Are they avoiding mention of any timetable that could prove to be wrong? Are they being cautious because that is the nature of new basketball boss Tim Connelly?

We don't know.

What we do know is that Towns hasn't played since November, and the longer the Wolves allow this to remain a mystery, the more they appear to be hiding something.

When they go on a three-game winning streak on the West Coast, Towns' status doesn't seem so important.

When their offense sputters against a quality opponent like Philadelphia, Towns' absence nags.

The Wolves have thrived at times without Towns, leading to speculation among fans and some in the media that they are better off without him.

That's silly.

He's a proven scorer who makes three-pointers, runs the floor and is a willing passer, and it's not like the Wolves have become world-beaters in his absence. They are one game above .500, even after a rare West Coast three-game winning streak.

Last year, with Towns playing a leading role, they finished 10 games above .500 and won a play-in game.

Towns was also perhaps the teammate most eager to pass the ball to Rudy Gobert, when D'Angelo Russell looked like he couldn't stand being on the court at the same time as Gobert.

The Wolves have survived without Towns, but they didn't trade half the franchise for Gobert so they could survive and hang around .500.

Without Towns, there is a cap on this team's potential. With him, the Gobert acquisition becomes a much more intriguing move.

Against the 76ers, Anthony Edwards dominated the first quarter, scoring 15 of the Wolves' 27 points as they took a three-point lead.

In the second quarter, when Edwards rested, the 76ers took off. Only an Edwards layup at the end of the first half allowed the Wolves to score 18 points in the quarter.

Towns didn't frequently win his duels with Sixers star Joel Embiid, but he usually put up something resembling a fight. Without him on the court, Embiid eased his way to 39 points in the first three quarters on Tuesday.

One reason the Wolves' trade for point guard Mike Conley made sense for this team is that when Towns returns, there will be a need to get the ball to him and Edwards. Russell is a volume shooter. Conley is a distributor who is much better at getting the ball to Gobert than Russell was.

Without Towns on the court, Conley will have to score. He did that well on the West Coast, but he's averaging less than 11 points per game this season. At 35, he should be a situational scorer, not a major part of the offense.

As for Towns, there are two likely possibilities:

He's close to returning and he and the Wolves are being secretive for no good reason.

Or there's a problem, and it's being hidden for a reason.