IT IS NO SECRET the 76ers struggle with teams that possess strong inside games. That was evident once again Saturday in a tough loss in Chicago.
The fear Tuesday was a repeat performance as the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves own the game's best rebounder in Kevin Love and surround him with rugged Nikola Pekovic in the starting lineup. That backup guards Jose Barea and Alexey Shved were the dynamics in Minnesota's lopsided, 105-88 victory was as unexpected as it is concerning.
The tiny Barea, generously listed at 6-foot, sped off the bench and contributed 11 points and 10 assists, while rookie Shved scored 17. Barea simply got wherever he wanted all night. He blew by defenders for layups, hit open jumpers, and if the Sixers tried to double, he found the open man each and every time. Shved, who came into the game shooting just 39 percent, made his first four shots, including three three-pointers. It was a classic one-two punch, just not the participants the Sixers expected to be delivering them.
Those two helped the Timberwolves to a decisive 57-23 advantage in bench scoring and a .532 shooting percentage. Minnesota also had a season-high 13 three-pointers.
"That was a rough game for us," said Jason Richardson, who scored 14 points for the Sixers (10-8). "They made shots they don't normally make. That's an NBA team. We did a great job of taking their two main guys out, but other guys on their team stepped up and that's how they won the game. We've just got to try to stay together.
"We're a fairly new team and we don't know each other that well, but we're learning through it. We've got a 10-8 record. There's nothing to be sad about. We haven't even hit 20 games in the season yet. It's a concern but it's nothing to panic about, it's nothing to go crazy about. We just have to go out there and do our job. We have to learn each other and we have to continue to play hard."
As coach Doug Collins has said often, players have to let go of bad games and move on to the next one. A coach, however, holds on to them for quite a bit of time. This lowly performance by his club certainly was gnawing at Collins.
"They had  assists, made 13 threes [on 25 attempts]. Once you let a team get going like that, it's hard to stop," Collins said. "We scored early and then we never had any defensive resistance the entire night. None.
"You gotta fight, man. You've got to compete. I'm not going to run up and down the sidelines, all I'd do is get tired and then they'd look at me like I'm a maniac. With this group I just don't know night to night. We just came off a good game in Charlotte, I thought we had a really good effort in Chicago. We had a good practice [Monday].
"I don't know. This team hasn't been through anything together, so I don't know who they are. The adversity that we've had has been injuries. But I'm talking about losing and I worry about that. I worry about getting punched in the mouth a few times and how we're going to react. That's a huge concern to me. We started out my first year here 3-13, but during that period of time I thought we were playing good basketball but we were making losing plays and we fought and found a way. I don't know about this team, yet."
It didn't take long for this bloodbath to get under way. The Timberwolves used a 14-2 run to finish the first quarter and take a 34-21 lead. They upped that to 65-47 at the half, benefiting from 59.5 percent shooting (25-for-42), including 7-for-12 from three-point range. By that time, Barea and Shved had already combined for 20 points and were instrumental in the bench outscoring the Sixers' subs by the lopsided amount.
At first glance it would appear the Sixers did their job in containing Love (six points, 10 rebounds) and Pekovic (six and five), but it's hard to grab rebounds when your team is barely missing any shots in the first half and when you are afforded the ability to rest most of the second because of the big lead.
Evan Turner led the Sixers with 19 points, while Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young each added 13. Josh Howard scored 16 and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who had seven players in double figures.
Perhaps a ray of light shines in the distance as the Sixers host the Boston Celtics on Friday, a team they have played very well the past few seasons. Maybe by then this performance will be a distant memory for both players and coaches.