The 76ers hope that their blowout win on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves can act as a blueprint for how they approach their tough upcoming schedule, and the rest of the season.
In dominant fashion, the Sixers sent the Wolves packing to the tune of 149-107. Though the final score was definitely cause for celebration, the players also found pride in the fact that they never let the Wolves back into the game. Leading, 83-58, at halftime, the Sixers' lead didn’t slip below 23 points in the second half en route to their 42-point victory.
"When I went into halftime, I said, ‘We’re not giving up this lead, we’re going to build upon it,' " Jimmy Butler said after beating his former team. “We need to do that more consistently. When you have a lead, build on it.”
Consistency has been a problem for the Sixers this season. With their core of Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and JJ Redick, the team isn’t lacking in players who can score, but, in the second half of games, they often lose focus, relax defensively, play with less effort, or don’t adapt to adjustments from the opposition.
“The last few games, we get up and we mess around with the game,” coach Brett Brown said. “We take things for granted too much for me. Recently, that’s what we’ve done is taking our foot off the gas.”
The Sixers are about to launch into their toughest stretch of the season, a 12-game gantlet of elite teams that Redick said is as brutal a stretch as he can remember in his 13-year career. He called the schedule “daunting” and noted that the Sixers are still searching for a level of consistency that other top-tier teams have already found, especially on the road.
A 19-4 home record is nothing to scoff at, but the Sixers' 10-12 road record this season features games in which they squandered leads, played down to their competition, or faltered against elite teams. The top three teams in both conferences boast winning road records.
It’s not just second-half adjustments for the starters, though. Production from the bench has been a roller coaster for the Sixers, and, on the road, those streaky performances are pounced on and exploited. T.J. McConnell said making sure the reserves are prepared and stay together starts with him.
“This isn’t a shot at other teams, but with the stretch we have coming up, if we don’t put two halves together -- like we haven’t been -- they’ll make us pay for it,” McConnell said Tuesday night. “These are all high-level playoff teams in a row, and we have to be on top of our game. ... I think the bench needs to step up a little more. We can’t lean on the starters so much that, when they’re out, we lose that lead.”
Finding a way to be consistent through 48 minutes is what Brown calls the “holy grail.”
Getting closer to that “holy grail” of playing a more consistent game needs to happen sooner rather than later, because between now and the end of the season, the Sixers most likely will look different, be it through the buyout market or a trade. Ideally, the Sixers want some of their wrinkles ironed out before they insert new people into their ever-changing system.
“We’ve got to learn from winning instead of learning from losing,” Butler said.
That’s why Tuesday’s win against Minnesota is so important. Seven players finished in double figures, the bench scored a combined 50 points, the Sixers didn’t give up their halftime lead, and the starters were able to rest in the fourth quarter while the reserves held down the fort.