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January 17, 2015

Sixers sloppy in 18-point loss to red-hot Pistons

Noel, Sixers follow up biggest win of the season with a dud

Sixers NBA

The Sixers visited the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night for the second leg of a road back-to-back and it went about as well as expected.

The Pistons, who have now won 11 of 13 since handing Josh Smith (now with the Rockets) his walking papers, manhandled the Sixers, 107-89, at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Here are some observations on the game:

Not the same Nerlens

On Friday night, Nerlens Noel had one of his best games of the season, putting up a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds, 5 blocks) on 70 percent shooting while not turning the ball over once.

Saturday night was a different story.

The Pelicans were without their best player, center Anthony Davis, and Noel took advantage of that fact. Against the Pistons, who trotted out a much more formidable front court of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, Noel struggled mightily.

In the first half alone, which ended with the Pistons leading 56-37, Noel was minus-23 with six points (3/7 shooting) and a pair of turnovers.

It must have been quite the reality check for the young center, who didn't take a shot from the field in limited second half action, and finished with seven points and seven rebounds.

Addition by subtraction

It’s amazing how much difference one player can make to an NBA team - or in this case, the absence of one player.

Since coach Stan van Gundy, who also oversees roster construction in his role as basketball “czar” for the Pistons, decided to flat out cut veteran Josh Smith on December 22, the team is 10-2.

At the time, the teams was just 5-23, two games ahead of the Sixers. Since then, it’s been amazing to see how the game has changed for everyone on the Pistons, not just their big men. 

There seems to be more spacing on the floor, somewhat of an even distribution of shot attempts, and a much more efficient style of play. 

Take Brandon Jennings for example.

With Smith, Jennings was averaging 28.8 minutes and 12.8 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting. Since Smith’s departure, he’s been playing about the same number of minutes (28.5 per game) but is scoring a much higher and more efficient rate, averaging 21.6 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting. And his three-point shooting percentage jumped from a pedestrian 32.7 percent to an impressive 44.6 percent.

Jennings didn’t have his best game against the Sixers (10 points), but the point remains.

As a team, the Pistons shooting percentage has increased 41.3 to 45.2 percent since Smith's departure. Say what you will about the cliched addition-by-subtraction argument, but clearly van Gundy is on to something.

Fatigue a factor

Not only was Saturday's game part of a back-to-back, it was also the Sixers' fourth game in five days. That showed early, as the Pistons jumped out to a 15-4 lead, and continued to pop up throughout the game. 

The Sixers finished with 22 turnovers, which is above their season average of 18.6. And had the game been closer* in the fourth quarter, there's a good chance that number would have been even higher.

*Close enough that the Pistons actually had to play defense.

In Friday's win over the Pelicans, the team recorded a season-low eight turnovers. And although they found themselves down early, they finished the first quarter with just a pair of turnovers.

The Pistons, on the other hand, are not known for creating turnovers defensively. Against the Sixers, they didn't even have to try that hard.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this came at the end of the third quarter, when the Pistons scored five points in the final 10 seconds after a Jerami Grant turnover led to an Anthony Tolliver layup followed by a sloppy pass from Henry Simms that found its way to Kyle Singler for a three with just over a second remaining.

It wasn't pretty.

Live by the three...

...die by the three.

Tonight, the Pistons killed the Sixers from outside. While the Sixers (46 percent) outshot Detroit (43 percent), it was the outside shooting that separated* the two teams. The Sixers were 7-for-28 (25 percent), but the Pistons were 15-for-35 (43 percent), including Singler's 6-for-8. 

Singler finished the game with 20 points to lead all scorers.