The 76ers remain an enigma.
They suffered a disappointing 121-120 double-overtime loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers dropped to 10-10 and 11th place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Despite Joel Embiid’s 42 points and 14 rebounds, the Timberwolves managed to defeat the Sixers for the first time since Nov. 17, 2016.
Yet, the Sixers are an enigma because no one knows how good they are.
Saturday marked Embiid’s first game back after missing the previous nine due to COVID-19. Tobias Harris also returned after missing two games with a strained left hip. That came after the power forward missed six games with COVID.
This was just the seventh game that all five members of the opening-day starting lineup played. However, Danny Green came off the bench in his second straight game back from left hamstring tightness. And with Shake Milton (left groin soreness) sidelined, the Sixers still have played only two games with a full complement of players.
They routinely played without at least two to three key players in each of their previous 13 games . They went 6-7 during the stretch.
“We showed the potential that we have,” Green said. “With our guys being out, it just shows how great we could be. We just have to show the rhythm and that chemistry. But we never know if we’ll get that with the guys back.
“But that potential that we have and how good we could be, and the way we were playing without our guys, I think it shows a lot of character and how great we can be.”
Green believes the challenge is getting everyone healthy and on the same page. He also wants the team to take on the challenge of being great and continue moving the ball throughout the season.
Due to limited bodies, during the 13-game stretch, several role players received extended minutes they normally wouldn’t have had.
Their roles are going to change a lot.
Embiid is going to take around 20 shots a game. So who loses those 20 shots?
Harris is going to take around 15 shots a game. Those shots are coming at someone’s expense.
“Roles always change,” Green said. “You need buy-in always. You need buy-in from the jump if you want to win a championship. I think guys from last year are starting to understand that and bought into that and realize this is what we need you to do.”
The roles of Tyrese Maxey, Georges Niang, and Milton will definitely change.
We have to realize, however, that there are some who think the Sixers being competitive in the past combined with the main players returning will instantly elevate the team’s championship chances.
That’s not always the case, especially for a team that still hasn’t developed rhythm.
On Saturday, they lost to a Timberwolves squad that had a 10-10 record after winning six of their last seven games. Minnesota, however, was without starting guard Patrick Beverley (left adductor strain) and was on the second game of a back-to-back.
Meanwhile, the Sixers were 4-2 in their first six games with their entire starting lineup intact. But on the season, the Sixers have defeated only two teams — the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks — currently with winning records.
Like Green said, the Sixers have a lot of holdovers from last season. Free-agent signees Niang and Andre Drummond are the only two main additions.
Coming into the season, the Sixers were expected to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2001. But that will be tough without disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons (who has yet to play) or the team acquiring a difference maker in exchange for him.
Yet, we’re about to get a sense of just how good they actually are.
“I almost don’t remember what it’s like to have everyone back,” Matisse Thybulle said. “It’s all in adjustments. The same way we had to adjust to whoever’s been available, it’s going to be a learning curve to getting back to where things were before all of this. ... With that, we’re all really excited to be at full force.”