76ers Beat Timberwolves 118-109 in Jimmy Butler's Return to Minnesota

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 30: Jimmy Butler #23 of the Philadelphia 76ers defends against Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second quarter of the game on March 30, 2019 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 118-109 on Saturday night at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Jimmy Butler returned to Minnesota for the first time since his trade to the Sixers in November.

"They're going to boo me," he said of the reaction he expected to receive from Timberwolves fans, per the New York Times' Marc Stein. "I would boo me, too. I'm not going to lie to you. ... I might actually join in on the boos."

Timberwolves fans loudly booed Butler during pregame player introductions, per ESPN.com's Malika Andrews.

Malika Andrews @malika_andrews

Jimmy Butler was soundly booed when introduced in Minnesota. Some of Sixers teammates even mockingly joined in on the boos. https://t.co/Pmvto1Nvpz

He finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

The Timberwolves were one night removed from a 131-130 overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors yet showed little fatigue from what was a physically and emotionally draining game.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points and seven boards, while Andrew Wiggins chipped in with a team-high 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting.


76ers Need Healthy Joel Embiid to Find Cohesiveness for Playoffs

Sixers head coach Brett Brown announced Saturday afternoon that Joel Embiid would miss the team's three-game road trip with an eye toward getting him back Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks, per NBC Sports Philadelphia's Serena Winters.

While Embiid's absence wasn't the result of a new issue, the All-Star center has battled knee tendinitis off and on over the past few months.

Independent of Embiid specifically, Philly.com's Keith Pompey hit on an important point regarding the Sixers' impending postseason run: "Assuming Embiid plays and everyone else is healthy, the Bucks game will mark just the 11th time out of a possible 25 games that the Sixers will have their complete starting unit on the court since acquiring Tobias Harris at the Feb. 7 trade deadline."

Philadelphia accelerated its timeline when it acquired Butler. Then general manager Elton Brand doubled down by adding Harris.

Harris made his Philly debut on Feb. 8 in a 117-110 win over the Denver Nuggets. The Sixers' final regular-season game is April 10 against the Chicago Bulls, which means Brown will have had two months to configure his strategy and rotations before the playoffs get underway.

Harris is proving to be a solid fit and had a game-high 25 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists.

Kyle Neubeck @KyleNeubeck

the Sixers' offense in the second half tonight https://t.co/Ajbnr33eRT

The Sixers are still trying to work out the kinks, however, and Saturday night was another example. After dropping 68 points in the first half and taking a 13-point halftime lead, Philadelphia's offense slowed down in the second half.

Adam Howes @Howsito

Tobias Harris is such a great fit for this Sixers squad. Inside-outside threat, composed scorer and makes good decisions on the offensive end.

One could sensibly argue the team was without its best player (Embiid), which presented a clear problem with regard to slowing down Towns and Gorgui Dieng, the latter of whom had 13 points off the bench. With a healthy Embiid, Philadelphia might have put the game away earlier.

As Pompey noted, the fact that he was out exacerbated a clear issue for the team.

On paper, the Sixers are a better team after the deadline than they were before it. That general feeling isn't evident in the numbers. Since Feb. 7, Philadelphia is ninth in net rating (3.3), according to NBA.com. The team was eighth in net rating (3.0) through Feb. 6.

There's no reason to panic from a Sixers perspective, but each game Embiid—or any other of the team's best players—misses makes Brown's job harder ahead of the playoffs.


What's Next?

The Sixers stay on the road Monday, when they play the Dallas Mavericks. The Timberwolves also get a much-needed day off and return to the court Monday to host the Portland Trail Blazers.