3 observations after Sixers take care of Pistons, move to 6-0 on homestand

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The Sixers find themselves one win away from a perfect homestand. 

With a 113-93 victory Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center over the Pistons, the Sixers moved to 6-0 on a season-long stretch of seven consecutive games in Philadelphia. They'll play the Clippers on Friday night. 

Joel Embiid posted 22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Tobias Harris had 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, James Harden 15 points and eight assists. 

No. 5 overall pick Jaden Ivey scored 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting. 

Tyrese Maxey missed his 15th consecutive game because of a left foot fracture. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame Maxey is still “improving” but that there aren't any notable updates on his rehab progress. 

With 2021 top pick Cade Cunningham out for the season after undergoing left shin surgery, the Pistons dropped to an NBA-worst 8-26.

Here are observations on the 18-12 Sixers' sixth straight win:

Fouls trouble Sixers again 

Rivers has recently highlighted unnecessary, excessive fouling as a problem his team must fix.

The Sixers didn’t begin well at all in that area, conceding 12 free-throw attempts to Detroit in the first quarter. Harris picked up where he left off on catch-and-shoot threes, draining two early, but he exited after under five minutes with two fouls. 

Georges Niang slid into Harris' spot and the talent gap between the teams became clearer. Rookie big man Jalen Duren registered two first-quarter fouls, Marvin Bagley III was overmatched against Embiid unless the Pistons sent precise double teams, and a Niang three grew the Sixers’ advantage to 22-14. 

Niang also got called for his second foul following around five minutes of action and the Sixers’ frustration with fouls did not abate. By the 4:17 mark of the second quarter, Harris and De’Anthony Melton were both on the bench with three. Ivey drew Melton’s fourth early in the third period. P.J. Tucker was ticked off later in the third when whistled for his third foul on a Bojan Bogdanovic jumper. 

The game was tightly officiated and certain individual calls were open for debate, but the Sixers largely caused their own fouling issues Wednesday. Moving forward, it would likely be worthwhile for Rivers to continue highlighting fouls and emphasizing that his players need to curb the reaches, sloppy recovery efforts, and overzealous shot contests. 

Offense a breeze 

The Pistons’ defensive game plan featured switching on ball screens and aggressive double teams on Embiid.

Neither of those approaches worked as intended. The Sixers sought out favorable matchups by setting a bunch of screens for Harden, and they didn’t mind doing so very far from the hoop. Harden generally struck a good balance in a 12-point first quarter between matchup-hunting and other forms of offense. He converted two driving buckets on Bogdanovic and also exploited Detroit’s flimsy transition defense several times, rewarding teammates who’d sprinted up the floor by dishing to them in stride. 

While the spacing and timing of movement around Embiid was occasionally off in the opening minutes, the Sixers soon made scoring seem easy. Embiid assisted a Matisse Thybulle layup and a Niang three early in the second quarter. He then effortlessly slid past Bagley into the paint, and Thybulle set himself up for another layup by nabbing a backcourt steal. It didn’t take long for the Pistons to lose much of their defensive structure and effort. An Embiid mid-range jumper put the Sixers up 19 points. 

“A lot of teams are sending doubles — I hate to give away the scouting report — for no reason … before (Embiid) even dribbles," Niang said. “He’s been doing a great job of just holding the ball and baiting them. If they don’t come, he goes into his move. If they do come right away, just finding someone else. The ball is hopping and we’ve done a great job of making shots and making plays off of his playmaking.”

Late in the second quarter, the Sixers’ focus also appeared to dip against an opponent that obviously did not require their highest level. The team posted only three points over the final 4:54 of the first half, allowing Detroit to enter the third quarter with a bit of confidence. 

Still, the Sixers didn't need to raise their game much. After an Isaiah Stewart layup, Harden chucked a pass approximately 70 feet to Embiid, who looked like a 7-foot wide receiver snagging a fade route over a smaller cornerback before laying the ball in. Stewart managed to avoid fouling Embiid in that instance, but he got his fifth with 8:48 to go in the third quarter. 

The Sixers hit another lull and saw their lead hit single digits late in the third on a driving Ivey layup, but the team always had extra gears to access if needed. Shake Milton and Montrezl Harrell’s scoring enabled the Sixers to prevent a downhill slide; the two combined for 19 of the team's 47 bench points.

“He’s just unique," Milton said of Harrell following the Sixers' Wednesday morning shootaround. “He has super long arms. He doesn’t look like the most big or imposing dude, but he’s super crafty and he also adds a key element of being physical. A lot of times when he gets the ball under there, I don’t understand how he creates that space, gets up, and is still able to dunk the ball. He’s not, like, 7 feet or anything, so it’s impressive.

“I think just continuing to play (together). Trez is able to (catch) at the elbow and we can cut and make plays, and he can pass out of those situations, too. It adds a different dynamic to our offense. I think just continuing to get him in the right spots and work on our pick-and-roll game. I feel like we have good chemistry as it is, but the more we play, the better it’ll be.”

Not exactly the Sixers' greatest test 

The Pistons filled the first half with a wide variety of turnovers.

All told, the Sixers had 24 points in the first 24 minutes off of 15 Detroit giveaways. Though pressure from the Sixers contributed to some of those turnovers, many were self-inflicted miscues. The Pistons threw wayward lobs, set moving screens, stepped out of bounds, and helped the Sixers out often. 

The Pistons' turnover gifts were less abundant after intermission, but they continued to make mistakes characteristic of a young team that will care plenty about this year's NBA draft lottery results. The Sixers of the Process era might've been an even match.

The 2022-23 Sixers were glad they wrapped a win up well before the final minutes, although Embiid still played 34 minutes and Harden received 33. After sitting out two games with a non-COVID illness, Furkan Korkmaz checked in for garbage time.

“We want to get to the point where fourth quarters, we know we have the game," Harris said. “Obviously we’re going to play great teams that that’s not going to be the case; there's going to be hard-fought games. But for us as a group, we know that we should have a lead, maintain a lead, and be able to have the comfort in the fourth quarter to get guys less minutes. And to have guys that come off the bench be able to play more minutes, it’s good for us.

“We know as a whole group that’s always been our mindset. We just haven’t really been able to to do it that much this year, but hopefully tonight starts some of it.”

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