The Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t supposed to be struggling like this.
Minnesota will try to avoid losing five straight games for the first time in nearly two years when it hosts the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Wolves’ “Big Three” of league MVP Kevin Garnett and guards Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell formed the NBA’s highest-scoring trio last season and led Minnesota to the Western Conference finals, where it lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Those three stars and all the key players are back from last season’s team, but Minnesota has struggled. The Wolves lost their fourth in a row and sixth in seven games Wednesday, 102-84 to the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.
Garnett had 23 points and 20 rebounds and Cassell added 20 points, but Sprewell did not play the entire fourth quarter and scored just four points.
“I think we know that Kevin is the anchor for this team,” Sprewell said, “but guys like myself, we’ve just got to play better.”
Minnesota, which hasn’t lost five in a row since a seven-game skid in March 2002, is just two games above .500 after 30 contests.
“Right now we are finding ways to lose instead of finding ways to win,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “We’re just trying to make too many great plays. We are passing the ball like we are up 20 points.”
Philadelphia has lost three straight and five of its last seven visits to Minneapolis, but comes into Friday’s contest with a 5-2 record on its eight-game road trip.
The Sixers opened their longest trip in 10 years with consecutive wins over Indiana, Portland and Seattle before losing their next two to Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Philadelphia got back on track Monday with a victory over Golden State, then beat the Jazz 106-99 on Wednesday for just its second win in its last 16 trips to Utah.
“It feels good for me, personally, just to come in here and get a win,” said Iverson, who also had nine assists. “It makes me feel good that we can come on the road and be successful and just makes me anxious to go home and play.”
With the win, Philadelphia moved to within one game of the .500 mark and is just a half-game behind the first-place New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 5): 76ers - 2nd place, 1/2 GB, Atlantic Division. Timberwolves - 2nd place, 7 GB, Northwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: 76ers - Iverson, 28.9 ppg and 7.1 apg; Dalembert, 6.4 rpg. Timberwolves - Garnett, 23.9 ppg, 14.7 rpg and 6.2 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Timberwolves, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 8; Timberwolves, 119-84. At Philadelphia, Eddie Griffin scored a career-high 27 points and Sprewell had 24 in his return from a one-game suspension for yelling a sexual vulgarity at a fan in Los Angeles.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: 76ers - 8-10 on the road; Timberwolves - 8-5 at home.