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Sixers fall just short of winning first game of season

Despite big game by Jahlil Okafor, Sixers cannot hold the lead in late going and lose to the Timberwolves, 99-93.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) looks to pass over Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second quarter at Target Center.
Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) looks to pass over Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second quarter at Target Center.Read more(Marilyn Indahl/USA Today)

MINNEAPOLIS - Jahlil Okafor was so having his way against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday at the Target Center that Karl-Anthony Towns, this year's top draft selection, and reserve Adreian Payne combined for 10 fouls in only 31 minutes of play.

Okafor finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds, but inexplicably, didn't get a shot attempt in the last five minutes of the game. It was during that time the Sixers lost a six-point lead, getting outscored, 20-9, over the final four minutes, 58 seconds as they dropped to 0-15 on the season after the 100-95 setback.

They are now two losses away from tying the franchise's season-opening mark for losses, as well as three losses away from tying the NBA mark, and their 25 in a row going back to last season is three away from equaling the consecutive-loss record for the league.

"Some of my teammates had good shots, they just missed," Okafor said of the final five minutes. "We also turned the ball over a little bit. We had some other shots there that were makable, we just didn't make them."

It was all too similar to Saturday night, when the Sixers missed 10 of their final 11 shots against Miami and blew what had earlier been a 17-point lead.

A couple of years ago, coach Brett Brown envisioned his team drafting Andrew Wiggins. He had pretty much planned on it. But a foot injury to Joel Embiid ruined those plans, and the 76ers are now-top heavy at center, while Wiggins is in Minnesota, teaming with Towns and a nice mix of veterans surrounding him in Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince.

Brown, meanwhile, endures and can only wonder "what if" when watching Wiggins do what he did on Monday, which was score 32 points, including eight in those crucial final five minutes.

"I don't think we are close," he said when asked to compare his team with the Timberwolves. "I think Minnesota should feel very lucky to have those two (Wiggins and Towns). They handle themselves with class and are talented. We also have that with Jahlil. The city of Philadelphia should be proud to have Jahlil Okafor. He also carries himself with class and has navigated the NBA, so far, well."

Of Monday night's game, Brown said: "When we did get Jah the ball, I thought we were static and slow," he said. "We tried to run with pace and tried to find him as much as we could, we just weren't able to close it out. The turnovers in the end hurt us."

The Sixers committed five of their 17 in the final quarter.

Robert Covington scored 18, Hollis Thompson 15 and Isaiah Canaan 14 for the Sixers, who played the second half without shooting guard Nik Stauskas, who had pain in his left knee.

"I think I got hit in my knee. I'm not really sure," Stauskas said. "It was sometime in the second quarter. I just started feeling a little something in my knee. When I stood up to go to the locker room at halftime, just walking, it didn't feel right. I got some tests done from the doctors here. They were a little concerned, so we have to get an MRI and see what happened."

Asked whether there was a mention of ligament damage, Stauskas said he didn't want to say.

So the bad news just keeps coming.

The Sixers trailed by two when T.J. McConnell missed a driving layup with 48.9 seconds to go. Kevin Martin then drained a three pointers with 28.4 left to make it 96-91 and all but sealed Minnesota's first win at home this season in seven tries.

"Andrew Wiggins was really good at the end," Brown said. "We tried to double-team him. We tried to go at him early and get the ball out of his hands. He beat traps and turned a lot into and-ones.

"They've been great. We have been in games. We've put ourselves in a position to win. I think we've taught them how to compete. I think now the next layer is we have to teach them to close out a game and win. Sometimes that only comes with a win. It's an interesting order of events that have to happen to find that ability in themselves and how to execute, so that we can find our first win."