Rod Beard on the Pistons' loss to the Wizards, and Sixers matchup. Rod Beard, The Detroit News
Washington — Forty days later, it’s time for the rematch: Pistons and 76ers, Part Two.
The Sixers enter Saturday night's matchup at 12-9, one of the surprise teams in the East — maybe only surpassed by the Pistons, who are one of the better revelations of the first quarter of the NBA season. The talk isn’t just about the teams — it’s also on the big men, as Pistons center Andre Drummond gets a long-awaited second shot at Sixers big man Joel Embiid.
In the first meeting on Oct. 23, Embiid had quite a game.
With 30 points and nine rebounds, he helped the Sixers get their first victory of the season and jump-started their early season surge.
Embiid has made headlines on and off the court — both with his play and trolling opponents through reporters’ cameras and recorders, as well as through social media.
In the first matchup, Embiid lit a fire, saying that Drummond was talking trash throughout the game, which fueled Embiid’s onslaught.
“Defensively, he doesn’t play any defense,” Embiid told the Philadelphia Enquirer. “When we started the game, he was being aggressive and he was talking, too. … So what I was like (in my mind), ‘You want to do that? I’m going to kick your [butt] then. So that’s what I did.”
As the game wore on, Embiid was energized by the back-and-forth — which Drummond said wasn’t any more than a normal game.
“Everybody knows me — I talk (trash) to everybody; it’s just what I do,” Drummond said the next day.
“I don’t say anything extra to anybody. I talk the same to everybody, whether you’re my friend or anybody else.
“I don’t say anything extra because it’s Joel Embiid; I don’t need to do that. I just speak the way I speak. If he felt some type of way, that’s on him.”
Drummond took to Twitter and ended the discussion: “See you Dec. 2.”
It’s been more than a month and things have simmered down considerably. Both teams have continued to play well, with the Sixers having won four of their last six games and the Pistons continuing to notch big wins, including at Boston on Monday and home against Phoenix on Wednesday.
And after almost six weeks, the beef is … lukewarm, at best.
“I actually forgot,” Drummond told The Detroit News Wednesday. “I’m just taking one game at a time. I’m not going to alter my game based off one player.
“(The talk) is one big to another. We had a great matchup. Obviously, he got the best of me and they won that game. We’ll see them again (Saturday) and I look forward to playing that game.”
That’s hardly bulletin-board material, but it shows some of the evolution that Drummond has made in his maturity this season, which matches his development on the court. In past years, Drummond may have taken the head-to-head matchup more to heart, which could have led to different results.
The Pistons’ success this season has been due in part to Drummond making personal sacrifices and playing more in a motion-oriented team concept than the pick-and-roll with Jackson that he had grown accustomed to.
“He just likes being involved all the time. Would he like to have more low-post opportunities? Probably. Would Reggie like to have more pick-and-rolls? Probably,” coach Stan Van Gundy said Friday. “They’ve both accepted that we’re playing the way we think is best for the team and people have to make sacrifices.”
Those concessions have paid off, leading to the Pistons’ hot start in the first quarter of the season. That starts with Drummond, who has a different role on his team than Embiid — and almost any other big man in the league. Now, Drummond knows the onus is on him to be a franchise player, in all aspects of the term. That means eschewing head-to-head matchups in favor of helping the collective.
“He’s matured to the point that he see it as a team matchup. He does want to do well against (Embiid),” Jackson told The News.
“Dre is coming out here and wanting to win his matchup every night but more importantly, to come out with a win.”
Opening some eyes
Drummond’s transformation hasn’t gone unnoticed. In his new role as the offensive hub, he has excelled in handling the ball and becoming a more effective distributor. He’s always been one of the league’s best rebounders, but Drummond is putting it all together — due in part to being more receptive to feedback from Van Gundy.
As the hub, Drummond has been more involved in the offense, which has kept his more engaged in the game — and Van Gundy admits that he hasn’t had to yell as much — so Drummond looks to be having more fun.
The winning only helps things.
“He’s been really easy to coach this year,” Van Gundy said. “He’s really tried to do anything we give him and he’s focused on winning and trying to help the team; he’s not focused on numbers.”
The numbers are impressive: 14.3 points, 15.2 rebounds and a career-best 3.7 assists through 20 games and through the first quarter of the season, Drummond looks to be on track to get his second All-Star selection.
That’s the potential Van Gundy always has seen in Drummond — and he knows this still isn’t Drummond’s peak.
“There’s still a ways to go defensively; he’s been better. That’s an area of focus for us, but it is for him too,” Van Gundy said. “His whole makeup and approach has been different this year. His approach of trying to get better has been a lot different.
“There’s nothing he’s not capable of — it’s just a focus to do it all the time. I won’t just take this; there’s more. With him, there’s more ability that I don’t want to sell him short and accept less than what I think he’s capable of. I am happy with all the improvement he’s made.”