76ers

Sixers manhandled in paint during loss to Pistons

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Sixers manhandled in paint during loss to Pistons

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He said he was a little tired. He said they were all a little tired -- physically and mentally. That’s what happens after you come back from a surprisingly productive five-game road trip and you’re forced to play back-to-back games.

Before the Sixers faced the Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday evening, Thaddeus Young was asked what went wrong in the previous two games. He could have spent less time talking about what didn’t go wrong. The Sixers got smacked by the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Monday. Then they went to Cleveland and got smacked by the Cavaliers on the road on Tuesday. There was a lot of smacking earlier in the week, none of which was done by the Sixers.

They were tired. Or, rather, fatigued. That’s how Young put it. It was understandable.

What happened on Friday was less understandable. It had nothing to do with fatigue. The Sixers were fully rested -- and yet the smacking continued. This time, the Pistons handed out the beating, defeating the Sixers, 114-104, at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday (see Instant Replay).

It was the Sixers' third straight defeat. It was also their fifth loss in the last six meetings against the Pistons. Meanwhile, the win snapped a six-game losing streak for Detroit.

On the surface, losing by 10 doesn’t look so bad. Except the Sixers scored 63 points in the first half -- the second-most points in the first two quarters that they mustered all season. They also had a 16-point lead during the proceedings. So what happened?

“The difference in the game was rebounding,” said Young, who tied for a game-high 22 points to go with four rebounds, two assists and two steals. “That and when Brandon Jennings got warmed up. I think he had three or four threes. That was the changing point in the game.”

Jennings made four of his six three-point attempts for the Pistons and finished with 19 points and six assists. The Pistons, who aren’t a good three-point shooting group -- they entered the game hitting 6.1 threes per game (27th in the NBA) -- made 11 of 30 attempts from distance. It wasn’t surprising. The Sixers have had trouble defending the perimeter all season. They allow the most threes per game in the NBA.

Josh Smith also had a monster game for the Pistons, posting 22 points (including two three-pointers), 13 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and four steals. Only two other players in NBA history have had a line like that -- Kareem Abdul Jabbar in 1978 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1992. And neither of them hit a three-pointer.

All of that certainly helped Detroit’s comeback. But it was what Young first singled out that mattered most for the Pistons: the rebounds. The Pistons beat the Sixers 62-42 overall on the glass and 25-13 on the offensive boards.

“I think their length bothered us the whole game,” Brett Brown said. “They had 25 offensive rebounds. We go into the game and you know that’s a problem. It’s going to be a problem. And it ended up a huge problem ... if you look at their offensive rebounds and their blocked shots, we struggled.”

That they did. In addition to getting beaten on the boards, the Pistons rejected the Sixers regularly whenever they dared to enter the paint. Detroit had an eye-popping 14 blocks. Six of those came courtesy of center Andre Drummond, who also had 11 points and 12 rebounds.

For the Sixers, Michael Carter-Williams made 9 of 20 shots for 21 points and four assists, while Evan Turner added 19 points, five rebounds and four assists.

But all of that felt almost incidental. The rebounds. The blocks. That’s where the Pistons excelled and the Sixers didn’t. That’s why the Pistons won and the Sixers didn’t.

“At the end of the day,” Brown admitted, “those are the two stats that stick out the most to me.”

To him and everyone else.

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

What Sixers need more and less of in second half

Now that the dust has settled on the NBA's All-Star festivities, the Sixers will reconvene this week and turn their attention back to the playoff push.

With 27 games remaining in the regular season over a 49-day stretch, it will be a sprint to the finish.

So how can the Sixers capture their first postseason berth in six seasons? Let's take a look at what the team needs more and less of down the stretch.

More: Healthy Embiid
What injury? Joel Embiid shook off right ankle soreness to participate in three events during All-Star weekend as a shining representation of the up-and-coming Sixers.

"There was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events," Embiid said Friday after the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. "It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun."

The big man is always about having fun, but now it's time to get down to business. Even though the Sixers' competition appears to lighten up after the break, the schedule does not (27 games with six back-to-back sets).

The Sixers are 27-17 when Embiid plays and just 3-8 when he doesn't suit up. They need the center healthy and on the court.

Less: Turnovers
Way less, actually. 

As you know by now, the Sixers have a bit of an issue holding onto the basketball. They simply don't respect each possession enough, evidenced by their 17.5 turnovers per game. That's good enough for dead last in the NBA and it's a full 1.5 turnovers more than the closest team (Los Angeles Lakers).

And it's not just the miscues. Teams are capitalizing, too — the Sixers also rank 30th in opponents' points off turnovers (19.4).

Of the "Four Factors" statistic on the offensive end, which breaks down weighted factors that help a team win a game — shooting (40 percent), turnovers (25 percent), rebounding (20 percent) and free throws (15 percent) — the only category that the Sixers rank outside of the NBA's top 10 in is turnovers.

If they can cut down on the giveaways just a little, it will go a long way toward their goal.

More: Early execution
However, not all of those possessions end up with the Sixers running back on defense after a turnover.

With more legit scoring options on the roster this season than any previous time during Brett Brown's tenure, they have shown the ability to execute a play to perfection for a bucket.

It's a stark contrast to the days when they couldn't even get the ball in on an inbounds play.

That level of scoring punch has been particularly evident at the start of games. The Sixers are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for fourth in the league in first-quarter points per game (28.7) and are even with the L.A. Clippers for seventh in first-half points a night (55.2).

The Sixers must continue to apply that pressure on teams at the outset of games, especially if their woes finishing off opponents is going to persist.

Less: Bad Covington
Ah, the curious case of Robert Covington.

Has any player in NBA history ever looked like they could make a push for an All-Star spot for two months only to appear as if they belong in the G League the next few months?

Covington has always been a streaky shooter, but this season has been extreme. He shot 44.7 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three-point range in October and November to help secure his multiyear extension. 

Since that point, the swingman has connected on just 37.6 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from long distance.

Whether it's the weight of the big contract or the nasty spill he took against the Cavs in December, Covington hasn't looked the same on the floor in several months. The team needs him to get it together and the sooner the better.

More: Killer D's
While Embiid's presence on both ends and Ben Simmons' wizardry at the point have put the Sixers in position to snag a playoff bid, the team didn't really hit its stride until a certain pairing found its footing: Dario Saric and defense.

Much like his rookie season, Saric struggled to find his role at the start. But that's long in the rearview mirror now. The second-year forward has increased his production each month and has been rolling so far in February (18.6 points, 51.7 percent field goals, 46.3 percent threes, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game).

That surge has coincided with the Sixers' tightened grip on defense. In seven games this month, they've allowed 96.1 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting.

The type of balance Saric offers offensively and the overall lockdown defense won't only make the Sixers a postseason team, it will also make them a tough out. 

Less: Fultz speculation
This is a big deal that the Sixers could make very small with a clear decision on the No. 1 pick's immediate future.

Markelle Fultz reportedly continues to ramp up his rehab workouts for his ailing shoulder, even after team president Bryan Colangelo said earlier this month that the guard could return soon or be shut down for the season.

The franchise should obviously give Fultz every chance to come back and contribute, but that ruling should be made at the first opportunity.

It's after the All-Star break and having that type of deliberation hovering over the team isn't exactly fair to the other players. Not to mention, for a guy that has apparently dealt with questions regarding his confidence, possibly dropping him into the thick of a playoff race doesn't really do him any favors either.

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

Our NBA All-Star challenge — describe Embiid in one word

LOS ANGELES —  From trash talking on the court to expressing himself on social media, Joel Embiid is a player of many (many) words. So if his fellow All-Stars had to describe him in just one, what would it be? 

Draymond Green: "'Funny.' He's hilarious. The stuff he says, he goes on TV talking about (Kevin Durant's) burner account, he's talking how he's a savage. His Instagram locations, pretty funny. He's a good guy." 

Andre Drummond: "I’d probably say 'charismatic,' 'funny,' 'savage.' He don’t care, he just does what he wants to.”

Paul George: “Personality,' in all caps."

(Why all caps?)

“Because he’s a big dude.”

John Wall: "He's just 'himself.' He's very confident."

Anthony Davis: “'Savage.' Cool dude, he lives by his own rules. He’s just enjoying life and having fun.”

Jimmy Butler: "'Remarkable' in the fact that his game on the court is insane. Then the way he's always saying something to somebody on social media is really 'remarkable.'"

Bradley Beal: “'Wild.' He has no filter, he doesn’t care. That’s my boy, but he just has no remorse, doesn’t care."

LaMarcus Aldridge: “'Entertaining,' because he’s always on TV expressing how he feels. So, entertaining.”