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.

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Training camp is an opportunity for Brett Brown to assess all the pieces he has available to construct the best roster possible. There are no clear-cut formulas to create the most successful lineups, not when the team has so many players that can be utilized at multiple positions. 

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Brown said Wednesday after Day 2 of training camp. “You’re going to see a bunch of different looks, blue and white. That’s part of my job. That’s part of what I’ve got to get done when we play on opening night.” 

Among these combinations is pairing Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. Given their versatility, the rookies can play multiple positions to share the court. Brown has eyed their size and skills at the two- and three-spots.

“The pluses are you have 6-10, do-alls that really can jump into a very versatile defensive world with perhaps a lot of switching,” Brown said. “I think they’re elite defensive rebounders that can rebound and lead a break and take off. ...

“The disadvantages are, you’re playing two guys out of position that’ve never played a second of NBA basketball and have never played together. It comes down to familiarity, it comes down to some type of comfort level that they’re going to have to navigate and figure out each other a little bit more.”

Saric and Simmons, like the rest of the Sixers, are learning one another’s games in training camp. Saric described Simmons’ skill set as “amazing” considering his stature and speed, noting, “I never played with somebody who’s that [many] kilograms.” 

“I think we will find a way to play together,” Saric said. “I think we can do it. Coach said most of the time we will play together. Maybe I can push the ball, he can push the ball too. ... He’s an unbelievably good passer and I think we’ll find a way how to play and I’m very happy because of that.”

Simmons entered the league touted as a point-forward. Exceeding the combo position, Simmons has played pure point at times, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He has been tapping into the Sixers' guards and veteran leader Elton Brand to help enhance his communication running the floor.

“[The] challenge is probably guarding the point guard position. They’re a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “But I also have a lot more length and strength. I think just being able to get to the rim. Also, if I have a smaller guy I can post it up.”

Saric also has ball handling skills in his arsenal. He grew up playing point guard from ages 8 to 14 before hitting a growth spurt. Saric looked up to Magic Johnson at the position. 

“To make other players happy and to make other players better, I think that’s the role of point guard,” Saric said. 

Brown will use the next four weeks as a trial period to maneuver different combinations and looks, including a towering duo of rookies.  

“Now is the time to do that," Brown said, "with the end game being whenever that type of thing happens, you have something quite special if they’re paired — when they’re paired, because I’m going to play them together — when they start really feeling each other’s game out in the environment that I've put them in a lot better."