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.

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.