Detroit (2-1) earned a split of its two-game road swing by defeating the New York Knicks 111-107 on Sunday. Tobias Harris scored 22 of his 31 points in the second half as the Pistons dug out of a 21-point first-half hole after he and Reggie Harris relentlessly attacked the basket via pick-and-rolls against Knicks center Kristaps Porzingis.
Harris finished with 16 points and seven rebounds while Andre Drummond contributed 21 and 13 for Detroit, who got an unexpected boost from Anthony Tolliver when he not only slowed down Porzingis on the defensive end but also contributed three 3-pointers and pulled down four rebounds in his first minutes of the season.
For all the talk of high expectations and having trusted the process after rebuilding for multiple seasons, the 76ers (0-3) have failed to deliver on all counts early after being routed 128-94 on the road by the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Center Joel Embiid did not play since he still isn’t cleared to play on back-to-back nights, and the interior defense suffered as Philadelphia was outscored 42-32 in the paint.
Ben Simmons totaled 18 points, ten rebounds and eight assists, and the rookie point forward has notched double-doubles in points and rebounds in all three games. Center Jahlil Okafor saw his first action of the season and contributed ten points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.
Three Keys to the Game
Feed Embiid - The 76ers center has admitted he "doesn't feel like an NBA player" because he can't play games on back-to-back nights. There's no better way to let him release that frustration then give him the ball since this will amazingly be the first time he is playing the Pistons in his career since being drafted back in 2014.
Mixing and matching on the Pistons bench - Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy has shown flexibility in utilizing his bench. Eight different non-starters have seen action this year, but only Jon Leuer and Ish Smith have played all three games. That means Van Gundy is seeing individual matchups and being rewarded for his selection process. His bench is averaging 37.4 points and shooting better than his starters (47.4 percent to 46.4 percent). For this game, look for Leuer and Henry Ellenson to get minutes working an inside-out game with Drummond.
Points in the paint - Detroit ranks tenth in the league in points in the paint at 48.0 per game. While the 76ers are tied for fifth defensively in allowing 40.0 per contest, they also have given up a league-worst 57 points off offensive rebounds. The Pistons have scored 46 second-chance points, good for seventh, and with Drummond and Harris making a concerted effort to crash the glass on that end, they could find easy baskets.
Matchup to Watch
Ben Simmons vs. Tobias Harris - Last year's No. 1 overall pick is making up for lost time as he quickly assimilates to the NBA grind. There's no one part of his game that is dominant, but Simmons is a stat-stuffer in the truest sense of the term, and his assist total is only going to rise as he gains on-court familiarity with where his teammates want to shoot. Harris presents a unique challenge as not only a stretch four, but someone who has a relentless motor to the basket. He has pulled down six offensive rebounds in Detroit's first three games, nearly doubling his career average of 1.1 in his career. If Simmons can hold his own defensively, the 76ers could break through for their first win.
Philadelphia 76ers Projected Starting Lineup
PG - Jerryd Bayless | SG - J.J. Redick | C - Joel Embiid | SF - Ben Simmons | PF - Robert Covington
Detroit Pistons Projected Starting Lineup
PG - Reggie Jackson | SG - Avery Bradley | C - Andre Drummond | SF - Stanley Johnson | PF - Tobias Harris
Drummond has been a double-double machine against Philadelphia, averaging 16.9 points and 16.0 rebounds in his last seven games between the teams. But his hidden value is in the secondary stats with 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game in that span. With the 76ers likely to establish Embiid in the low block, those defensive numbers could tick higher while his points and rebounds numbers likely will hit those averages and possibly beyond.
The number appears to be favoring the Pistons to cover as 4.5-point favorites. Detroit have covered in six of the last seven meetings between the teams and eight of the last ten times when at home. Also, the 76ers have lost five straight against the spread versus Central Division teams. Lastly, taking the under 214 points feels like a strong play given it's hit in 13 of Detroit's last 16 home games as well as eight times in its last 11 against Atlantic Division rivals.
While it's understandable that Embiid is frustrated given how much time he's missed since being drafted four seasons ago, to see it public this early is a little disconcerting. The 76ers are a team still adjusting to facing raised expectations and having players pull away from the common good threatens the cohesion coach Brett Brown is trying to build. The Pistons, meanwhile, have established their identity as a blue-collar team. After playing well in both road games, they have momentum on their side. Look for Harris and Drummond to lead the way to a 107-99 win for Detroit.
This game will be televised locally by Fox Sports Detroit and NBC Sports Philadelphia. Tip off is at 7pm ET.
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