Early in the first quarter, an energetic Philadelphia 76ers squad was seen beating a listless Detroit Pistons team to its marks, and getting out in transition. Detroit guard Brandon Jennings, frustrated at a non-call he didn’t deserve, was ejected soon after. By the second quarter, the Sixers had their largest lead in two months, a 14-point advantage over the reeling Pistons. By halftime the outcome had become apparent – the Philadelphia 76ers would not be setting any records this year.
Oh, they’ll tie them. The Sixers lost to Houston on Thursday, matching an NBA record with 26 consecutive defeats, but the appearance of a worn down Detroit Pistons team in Philadelphia on Saturday allowed the Sixers to run away with their biggest win of the season, both in literal and figurative terms, downing Detroit by a 123-98 score.
The scene played out exactly as you assumed one like this would, pairing a desperate and embarrassed 76ers team, working from home, up against a mismatched Detroit rotation that was competing under an interim coach and most likely a lame duck general manager. With the exception of some solid hustle from Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey, the Pistons played like a team that cannot wait for its season to end, at one point going down by 30 points, never seeming embarrassed that they were about to lose by double-digits to a team that hadn’t won in two months.
The Sixers hadn’t won in Philadelphia in two and a half months, losing 18 at home along the way, but the boisterous Saturday night crowd seemed to give this terrible team an edge. Its holdover semi-stars Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young paced the rotation with a team-high 21 points apiece, but this really was a group effort – the ball was moving, and the Sixers were leaking out in transition, and the team made 52 percent of its shots from the floor alongside a 12-21 three-point mark.
The Pistons, meanwhile, are playing like a team that wants to keep its lottery pick, which it will do if Detroit loses enough games and dips into a top-eight pick. Otherwise that selection is going to the Charlotte Bobcats, penance for a deal that unloaded Ben Gordon’s terrible contract off of Detroit’s roster and onto Charlotte’s.
New’ish Sixers GM Sam Hinkie doesn’t want to make the same middling mistakes Pistons GM Joe Dumars has over the last few years, which is why he’s attempting to start over from the very bottom with the very best of lottery picks – Philadelphia will have two in this June’s draft, alongside the two (Carter-Williams, and Nerlens Noel) that he took in last year. This has been an extended training camp for the Sixers as they develop and acquire assets, one was reminded of that upon looking back to the last time these 76ers won: Evan Turner hit a game winning shot to beat the Celtics in Boston, he and fellow starter Spencer Hawes have since been traded for the pittance of second round draft picks.
You can’t fault the Sixers for trying during that 26-game run, which is why this team was never really technically tanking, but the hallmarks are all over the roster-building here. Still, for those hand-wringing and worrying needlessly over Philadelphia’s move toward the bottom, understand that these 76ers still aren’t even the worst team in the NBA record-wise, and that if things hold up they’ll still only have less than a 20 percent shot at the top overall pick at the lottery this May. Teams that blow out their seasons are far from guaranteed a top pick, and they rarely end up getting it. Can the hand-wringing, because the lottery works.
This doesn’t mean Hinkie is foolish for going this route, but he did have to completely disengage himself from the sins of his predecessors, career NBA guys who created mediocre teams with limited ceilings. When one putzes around the middle for a decade as the Sixers did, continually adding so-so talent with little playoff payoff, one has to give the franchise a good Silkwood hose down. And that’s what Hinkie has done.
And now look at what these 76ers have done, those little scamps. They outran and outhustled a team filled with veterans, engineered to shoot for 45 or so wins, failing miserably at it along the way. Detroit saw its future on Saturday night, and they can only hope their rebuilding roster is filled with players with character and mettle like Philadelphia’s, when the Pistons take their own inevitable hose down.
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