The Sixers handled the 11-32 Pistons about as easily as you'd hope for on a night when they were missing Joel Embiid, winning 123-111 on Sunday.
On Tuesday, the Sixers are back home for another contest against the Pistons, who’ll continue to be shorthanded. Cade Cunningham obviously remains out for the season after having surgery on his left leg, while Marvin Bagley III (right hand metacarpal fractures) and Jalen Duren (right ankle soreness) are both still out as well. Another notable addition to the injury report is Bojan Bogdanovic, who's now out with right calf soreness. He's been putting up career-highs of 21 points per game with a 62.8 true shooting percentage this season, so his absence certainly makes things a bit easier for Philly.
The Sixers, on the other hand, could be closer to full strength. Embiid (left foot soreness) has been upgraded to questionable, and P.J. Tucker is currently listed as probable after missing the last game with a non-COVID illness. Given the strong performance of the rest of the team without them, against a team that’s also dead last in the East, it makes sense to get Embiid and Tucker some extra rest on Tuesday if possible — whether that's limited minutes in their potential returns or simply sitting the game out.
Without Cunningham to anchor the team’s offense, the Pistons have mightily struggled. Despite bringing in exciting rookie talents like Jaden Ivy and Jalen Duren, and an efficient veteran scorer in Bojan Bogdanovic, the Pistons still find themselves 15th in the Eastern Conference with a bottom-six ranking in both offensive and defensive rating. Even if Embiid remains out, this really isn’t a team the Sixers should be having trouble with if they bring reasonable effort.
James Harden had no trouble racking up a triple-double in Detroit on Sunday with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. It's hard to see the Pistons' defense changing too much to stop Harden getting to his spots or setting up cutters for easy finishes down the lane.
Detroit’s defense, with Isaiah Stewart and Nerlens Noel manning the back line, wasn’t able to stop the Sixers having their way in the paint in general. They shot 28-of-39 (71.8 percent) in the restricted area. If they can pair remotely similar interior success with even average shooting on Tuesday (the Sixers shot just 11-of-37, 29.7 percent, from three in Detroit at the weekend), they’ll be in good shape.
Along with Montrezl Harrell’s 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 23 points from Tyrese Maxey (his jumper isn’t on point just yet, but he’s showing more of his burst again and looking more like his usual self after returning from injury), 14 points from Georges Niang, and big nights from the team’s available centers, Sunday’s outing was a well-rounded effort from the Sixers. The kind of effort they could use again to begin their upcoming home stint with another win in Tuesday’s rematch.
In Embiid's absence, Philly's backup bigs both stepped up. Harrell continued his run of better play and unsurprisingly benefited as a roller next to Harden — the guy Harrell should spend most of his time with if he’s going to be maximized on this team. Meanwhile, Reed was strong as a finisher, active defensively, and a force on the boards to finish with 16 points, three steals, and 12 rebounds (including an impressive tally of eight on the offensive end). If Embiid remains out on Tuesday, Reed deserves more minutes to show what he can do, while Harrell seems to be in good enough offensive form right now to make the most of his extra time against this limited Pistons frontcourt.
The Sixers also did a great job of digging at the ball, breaking up passing lanes, and generally using some of the Pistons' sloppy play against them. Detroit racked up 23 total turnovers, and with a few Sixers in particular getting their hands on the ball (Matisse Thybulle was everywhere with five steals, Reed had three, and Tobias Harris grabbed a pair), the Sixers were able to get out in transition a fair amount and score 23 points off turnovers. The Pistons have been committing the eighth most turnovers per game (15) in the NBA since Cunningham was first sidelined in mid November, so hopefully for the Sixers this is something they can exploit again in their second game of the week.
On a night when they had three 20-point scorers, sound bench production, and Harden was commanding the offense just as he needed to without Embiid, the extra possessions and added lift in transition only made matters easier on Sunday. If the Sixers can stay aggressive defensively and push the pace a bit more again on Tuesday, they should be able to run towards another win against this Pistons team.
When: 7:00 pm ET, Tuesday, Jan. 10
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic