Auburn Hills — After getting victories over the Nets and Bulls last week, the Pistons are happy to be 2-0 but those wins are not a clear barometer of where the Pistons are in the East. Tuesday’s matchup against the Sixers will better gauge their progress this season under coach Dwane Casey.
Last season, there was some sizzle around the matchups between Sixers center Joel Embiid and Pistons big man Andre Drummond, but Embiid dominated, posting 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the first meeting and averaging 29 points and 9.3 rebounds in three matchups.
The two All-Stars could have a marquee matchup in the middle but Casey is quick to point out that the focus is not about individual matchups; rather, it’s about keeping things in a team concept and working from there. There’s no special conversation to have with Drummond to keep his attention on the team game plan.
“The only thing I say is it’s the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers, not Joel Embiid versus Andre Drummond,” Casey said. “It’s 5-on-5 and that’s the way we have to approach it.
“Once you start getting personal, that’s when spacing becomes an issue and that’s when you’re not in help position defensively. A lot of bad things happen when you start thinking about ‘me.’”
The Pistons have their own concerns, as Drummond missed Monday’s practice because of the flu. The Sixers (2-1) were without Simmons, who had back-muscle tightness in Saturday’s game and exited after playing just seven minutes. Each is questionable for Tuesday’s game.
Beyond Embiid, the 7-foot multi-talented big man, the Sixers present matchup problems around the court, with the 6-10 Simmons playing a hybrid point-forward and sharpshooters J.J. Redick (46 percent) and Robert Covington (39 percent) as 3-point threats.
“Simmons, as big and tall as he is, he’s a point-forward. Size-wise, they present a problem and there are some things we can do to mitigate that matchup-wise with guys who guard them,” Casey said. “No matter what we come up with (defensively), they are a problem. Now you throw in Redick and Covington to space the floor and that’s an issue.”
With Casey’s new shot-spectrum philosophy, there’s a profound focus on 3-pointers and shots in the paint. The Pistons are shooting 43 percent on two-pointers overall, which ranks 28th in the league.
In Saturday’s game against the Bulls, the Pistons missed a number of shots close to the rim, which had a ripple effect. For Monday’s practice, part of the time was spent on making shots through contact. It was traditional lay-up lines with coaches batting at their arms and the ball with pads.
“It was an issue coming into the season. The issue with finishing last year was something we talked about and worked on and it’s still around,” Casey said. “We have to concentrate on finishing through contact and through physicality. It’s a phenomenon.
“We run or do push-ups if guys miss lay-ups in practice but it’s about focus and concentration and finishing as strong at the end as when you’re going up. We’re getting a lot of looks in the paint and in the shot spectrum where we want.”
Luke Kennard didn’t play Saturday after starting in the opener. There was some concern about whether Kennard was injured, as he sat on the bench with heating pads on both knees. Casey clarified that it was more about the matchups than anything else and that he didn’t have to talk to Kennard about the decision.
“Luke is a pro and he understands that. I’ll take the blame for that. I didn’t think the game dictated that. The group we were playing was playing well,” he said. “The two-guard offense is something that takes a few minutes and opportunities from him. When we took Ish (Smith) out to give him a blow, we put Jose (Calderon) in because they were playing two point guards at the time.
“It’s matchup driven more than anything Luke did wrong.”
Pistons vs. 76ers
Tipoff: 7 Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD, NBATV/97.1
Outlook: The Sixers (2-1) swept all four meetings against the Pistons last season on their way to turnaround playoff season. Joel Embiid averaged 29 points and 9.3 rebounds in the three games he played.