Sixers fans fly to Minneapolis, greet Dario Saric and Robert Covington after game (VIDEO)

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Dario Saric and Robert Covington are now members of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The former Philadelphia 76ers players came to Minneapolis as part of the Jimmy Butler trade earlier this season.

But Sixers fans still love Saric and Covington.

After the 76ers and the Timberwolves squared off on Saturday, a group of Philadelphia fans related to the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast waited in the arena to greet Saric and Covington. It was a crowd of around 300 people — most of whom flew to Minneapolis for the game — and they gave the former Philadelphia players a warm reception.

Via Twitter:

The internet fan base in Philadelphia is one of the best in the NBA, and organizing something like this, where they show their appreciation for former players, is par for the course.

For his part, Saric said he would always love Philadelphia.

RTRS apparently does an away game each season, and fans travelled to Sixers-Timberwolves this time out because of the connection between the two teams.

Philadelphia beat Minnesota, 118-109.

Russell Westbrook tells Towns ‘Get to the f****** playoffs before you speak to me’

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Karl-Anthony Towns was having a night — 41 points and 14 rebounds, dominating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the paint and leading Minnesota to an upset win.

Towns was feeling it — and he was talking some smack. To Russell Westbrook. One of the handful of players in the league who is much better when angry, so coaches tell players not to poke the bear. Towns was poking anyway, along with Dario Saric.

That’s when Westbrook responded (via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic).

“Get to the f****** playoffs before you speak to me,” Westbrook barked.

Ouch.

Towns has been playing impressive ball of late — 36.4 points per game in his last five on 60.4 percent shooting — it just hasn’t lead to wins in Minnesota, which is why Westbrook’s shot stings. Towns has to do more than just put up numbers, he needs to do it in a way that leads to wins, as happened with OKC. Getting Robert Covington back from injury would help with that, but Towns has to be the leader.

Report: Fred Hoiberg could replace Tom Thibodeau with Timberwolves

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Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau was reportedly on thin ice amid the Jimmy Butler trade saga. But since dealing Butler for Robert Covington and Dario Saric, Minnesota has gone 9-3.

Still, the Timberwolves are just 10th in the West. Even with its improved play, Minnesota could miss the playoffs in that loaded conference.

So, names potential replacements for Thibodeau are already swirling – like Fred Hoiberg, whom the Bulls fired this week.

Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports:

A league source close to the situation told NBC Sports that Hoiberg could be a candidate to take over in Minnesota where he’d be reunited with owner Glen Taylor.

“Glen loves Fred,” the source told NBC Sports.

Hoiberg played for the Timberwolves and worked in their front office. He was reportedly a candidate to become their coach a few years ago.

Though Hoiberg wasn’t close to the biggest problem in Chicago, I wouldn’t rush to hire him. While with the Bulls, he never showed much reason to believe he’s a good NBA coach. Maybe he’d be fine in a different environment, but I would have liked to see more signs of quality coaching. NBA coaches must be more adaptable with their schemes, as it’s rarely feasible to get only players who fit well, and NBA coaches must communicate better with their players.

Plus, if the Timberwolves fire Thibodeau, they’ll also need a new front-office head. That person should have a say in picking the coach.

Still, I could see Minnesota hiring Hoiberg. The owner’s voice matters most. And when a team fires its coach, it tends to hire a replacement with a different style. The mild-mannered Hoiberg different considerably from the harsh Thibodeau.

That probably has something to do with the Bulls hiring Hoiberg to succeed Thibodeau – but look where that got them.

Three Things to Know: Fred Hoiberg wasn’t problem in Chicago, wasn’t answer either

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Fred Hoiberg wasn’t the biggest problem in Chicago, wasn’t the answer either. You can spin the firing of Fred Hoiberg as the coach of the Chicago Bulls a couple of ways — and both are true.

Hoiberg wasn’t the reason for the Bulls’ slow start, but he wasn’t showing himself to be the answer to turning it around, either.

Blaming Hoiberg for the 5-19 start for this team is wrong. Team president John Paxson explained the firing by saying the Bulls lacked “energy” and “spirit” but what they really lacked was talent — and that’s on him. And much of the talent they did have on the roster has been injured: Lauri Markkanen just played his first game Saturday, Kris Dunn has played in one game, Bobby Portis four, Robin Lopez has missed time, and on down the line. This was a team that was never going to win many games anyway, and if the front office went into the season truly believing this roster could hang around and compete for a playoff spot — even at the bottom of the East — then those were not your standard gummy bears they were eating.

This year’s Bulls’ roster followed a pattern — Fred Hoiberg was brought in to run a modern pace-and-space offense then was never given a roster that fit well with his principles. Not with Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, and Pau Gasol. Not with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. And not with this young team, which had potential but was never fully healthy.

However, Hoiberg also never commanded this team and was not the coach to lead them into the future either — which makes this firing the right move.

What exactly was the Bulls’ identity this season? That’s on the coach.

Hoiberg is simply not a strong personality and not the master psychologist who could get players with big egos to all pull on the rope in the same direction. From the day just 25 games into his rookie season as a coach when Jimmy Butler basically stepped over him after a dunk — saying the team needed to be “coached harder” — Hoiberg never had the locker room. At one point Wade and Butler complained about the effort of the young players to the media, Rondo stood up for them on social media, and the only thing that was clear was Hoiberg had lost the locker room. That trend continued.

Can Hoiberg be a quality NBA coach? Who knows. I’d love to see what he could do with a roster that actually fit his style of play.

Jim Boylen gets the head coaching job — and not on an interim basis, he’s the man (and no, this is not the Jim Boylan that took over for Scott Skiles when the Bulls fired him years ago, different spelling). Chicago wants the veteran to coach the rest of this season, plus he’s under contract for next season, they hope he earns sticking around. Maybe he can, the roster is finally getting healthy and, while it is not going to be good, it should be better than the six-game losing streak they are on. Can Boylen get some traction on the spinning wheels of the Bulls’ franchise? Maybe.

But the bottom line is Paxson and GM Gar Forman need to get a lot more talent on the roster before they blame the coach for wins and losses. The Bulls have made some smart moves to start building this franchise up again in the past couple of seasons, but they have a long way to go still. Regardless of who is the coach.

2) Denver goes into Toronto and picks up a “we’re for real” win on the road. Toronto gave up two dead-ball points late in the game that cost them a chance for the win at home. Well, the 3-of-22 shooting from three in the first half had a lot to do with it too — it’s never just one thing, a lot of things go into a close loss — but let’s focus on the two dead ball points at the end of the game.

The first came when Raptors coach Nick Nurse earned — and we mean EARNED — a technical foul with this reaction to a closeout foul call on Jonas Valanciunas.

Nurse was lucky not to be tossed for that reaction. As for the foul, Nurse has a point — while that’s a late and sloppy closeout by Valanciunas (why was he in a deep help position on Plumlee, leaving a shooter open) Monte Morris does jump forward with his shot, Valanciunas did not slide under him on a vertical leap. That said, Nurse has to own his reaction and giving up a point late in a close game is a mistake by the coach, regardless of what he thinks of the call.

Then there was the one Nurse can’t argue: With the game tied at 103-103 and :07 on the clock, Serge Ibaka unquestionably holds and hooks Nikola Jokic on an inbound play as Jokic is trying to come around a Jamal Murray pick. Because the ball was not inbounded it was one free throw plus the ball for Denver, but that changed everything (the game was no longer tied, it forced the Raptors to play the foul game).

Maybe last season this doesn’t get called (the Utah Jazz wish it wasn’t getting called) but that was not some subtle hold off the ball. Ibaka grabbed him and impeded Jokic’s movement. If you’re going to emphasize freedom of movement calls, you have to call that blatant one late in the game.

For Denver, this is their best win of the season — they have won six in a row, four of those on the road, and it includes wins at Oklahoma City, Portland, and now Toronto. On the big stage, against a good defensive team inside, Jokic looked All-NBA with a triple-double of 23 points, 15 assists, and 11 rebounds. He is brilliant, and the 16-7 Denver Nuggets are tied for the top seed in the West, and they are legit.

3) Timberwolves show how much things have changed since last playoffs with a 103-91 win against Houston. Last season, the Houston Rockets easily swept aside the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first-round of the playoffs, 4-1.

Right now, the Rockets are scuffling and don’t look like the same team, but how Minnesota played in Monday night’s win shows how much the script has flipped.

Remember last playoffs how Karl-Anthony Towns had trouble posting up against Clint Capela (and took a lot of grief for it)? Towns beasted inside Monday night, attacking much more forcefully out of post-ups, and he shot 8-of-12 inside eight feet of the rim. One thing that helped with that, however, is it was harder for Houston to bring help on those post-ups because they had to stay closer to Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and the shooters around Towns now.

The other big thing, Minnesota’s defense since the Butler trade has been much better — thank Covington for that. He has Towns focused and energized on that end, the Timberwolves have the second-best defense in the NBA since the trade (101.2 points per 100 possessions) and are 8-3.

The Rockets helped out that defense with a terrible shooting night, they missed their open looks, too. Houston scored just nine points in the fourth quarter, which is ugly and speaks to other issues. That said, bad shooting ights nights happen. The difference is last season Houston had a defense that could keep it in games when the offense stumbled, this season they get crushed. They have a bottom-10 defense on the season that has been worse lately (third worst in the NBA over the last 10). That is the end of the floor that is holding the Rockets back.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Wolves use big second half to beat Rockets 103-91

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves got together in the locker room at halftime to address what needed to be fixed – all their defensive lapses that led to a big second quarter by the Rockets.

Minnesota clamped down after that, and Houston had hardly any offense at all.

A stingy defensive effort by Minnesota helped erase a 14-point halftime deficit, and the Timberwolves beat the Rockets 103-91 on Monday night. Minnesota shut things down after the break, holding the Rockets to 29 points in the second half.

“We came in here and we made it clear we’ve got to change things and we’ve got to be the team that wants it more,” Towns said of the halftime discussion. “I think everyone in the building saw that we came out with an edge to us and a fire to us to get back in the game.”

Towns led Minnesota with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Andrew Wiggins had 16 points. The Rockets led by as many as 19 in the first half before Minnesota stormed back to take the lead for good in the third quarter.

James Harden finished with 29 points, and Clint Capela added 24 for the Rockets. Houston went cold after halftime, scoring just nine points in the fourth quarter.

“In the second half, we just laid an egg,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said. “They had everything going. You could tell by their confidence. They just played better defensively.”

Following the example set Robert Covington, Minnesota stepped up its defensive intensity in the third quarter while shooting 7 of 10 from 3-point range. Houston shot just 38.1 percent in the third quarter and connected on 2 of 11 from deep.

Covington, acquired by Minnesota last month in a trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia, has helped jumpstart the Wolves’ defense since his arrival. Since the All-Defensive First Team selection made his Timberwolves debut, Minnesota has held opponents to 100 points or fewer in seven of 10 games.

“It just shows how good we can be defensively,” said Covington, who had two blocks, two steals and 13 points. “Everyone that stepped on the court was really engaged in the second half defensively, and that’s what allowed us to hold them to that.”

Harden scored 14 of Houston’s 38 points in the second quarter as the Rockets pushed their lead to 14 at the half.

Minnesota had three technical fouls in the first half. Towns received a technical after he thought he was fouled, and Covington got one late in the second quarter. Jeff Teague was hit with a technical foul on a play in which he was fouled.

After Houston scored 38 points in the second quarter, Minnesota answered with a 38-point quarter of its own. The Timberwolves tied it at 76 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Teague to cap a 15-3 run. Wiggins also hit a 3-pointer and had a block at the other end during the stretch.

Minnesota took its first lead since 14-11 when Dario Saric hit a 3-pointer that made it 79-77.

The Wolves grew their lead in the fourth quarter on a three-point play by Saric and a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Covington that made it 94-82.

Harden hit a shot in the fourth that ended a 42-14 Timberwolves’ run over 14 1/2 minutes. The nine points in the fourth quarter was the fewest for the Rockets in any quarter this season.

“For whatever reason, the second half we played without any kind of spirit or energy,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Things were going great in the first half, and then at the end of the first half we let them come back.”

Monday marked the first time Minnesota and Houston faced off since last year’s playoffs. The Rockets beat the Timberwolves in five games, including a game that saw Houston score 50 points in a quarter at Target Center.