MINNEAPOLIS - Few people know Jahlil Okafor's basketball game better than Minnesota Timberwolves rookie guard Tyus Jones. They met as third-graders at the AAU nationals and have been friends since, through high school and as teammates for one magical season at Duke, where they won the national title last April.
While he could have gone to any college, Okafor has said he wanted to make sure that where he went wasn't only the right fit for him, but also for Jones. Duke was just that for the two, as Okafor was a first-team All-America and Jones scored 23 in the national title win over Wisconsin.
They met on the floor as professional opponents for the first time Monday night at the Target Center, Okafor the leader of a still-rebuilding 76ers team and Jones a deep sub for a young Timberwolves group.
"It's been different, especially because the last year we've been going through the same things together every day, being at Duke," Jones said of the transition to NBA life. "But now we've gone on to our different cities and are going through the same experience on our own terms. It's different. We still keep in contact and still talk almost every day. It's just something we have to get used to.
"I think he's dealing with it about as best as you can with his circumstance. He's making the most of his situation and trying to get better, and I'm doing the same thing here. Coming from our backgrounds, it's very similar, but now our situations are different. With me, it's different not playing, but it's part of becoming a professional and understanding your journey and role, and different things like that."
Jones has appeared in only two of the T-Wolves' 14 games for 14 total minutes. He is learning the way of the NBA from veteran guards such as Ricky Rubio and Andre Miller, while Okafor sort of has been anointed the current savior of the Sixers.
"He's just a guy who can score," Jones said of Okafor. "He puts the ball in the basket, and he's always been able to do that. He has a repertoire of moves in the low post, and that's something that there's not a lot of these days. A lot of the game is guys stepping out and shooting and dribbling the ball. I think that's what makes him good, that he can do that and he embraces it. His game just fits the NBA style."
A shooter will always say you can't worry about missing shots. Whether he is always telling the truth is something only he will know. Robert Covington toed that amnesia line when asked about his shooting woes to start the season. After a sprained knee cost him nine games, Covington struggled to find his trademark shooting touch, missing his first 18 three-point attempts. Saturday in Miami, though, he scored 21 points, while hitting three of his six from distance. He also nailed his first one against Minnesota on his way to 18 points on the night.
"Just getting back in a good rhythm," Covington said. "The first few games back, I struggled. To see the first shot go in (against Miami) and continue to play (felt good). I had a great overall game. We put ourselves in a great situation. They found me in different ways to score. Seeing that first one go in did a lot for me.
"I don't change what I do, as far as shooting. You've just got to continue to stay confident and put that last one behind you and keep shooting. You're not going to make every shot that you take. Coming back from injury, it's going to take a while to get back into rhythm. Now that I'm starting to get back into a rhythm and get more comfortable, it's going to get better."
Minnesota coach Sam Mitchell was asked whether he had to guard his team against overlooking the winless Sixers.
"Really?" he said. "They beat us twice last year, we have five wins this year, and we won 16 games last year. Is there anything I need to say?"