Joel Embiid, Al Horford provide big challenges for Pistons' Andre Drummond

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Pistons center Andre Drummond is introduced before the game Thursday.

Detroit — Throughout much of Andre Drummond’s career, he’s been part of unconventional rosters that buck the league's small-ball trend.

First as a young player with Greg Monroe and now with Blake Griffin, Drummond has teamed with another big man to try and navigate a perimeter-oriented league.

In Year 8, for the second time in the first three games, the shoe will be on the other foot for Drummond on Saturday, as Griffin continues to nurse an injured left leg.

After playing against Indiana’s Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis in Wednesday’s opener, Drummond will try Joel Embiid and Al Horford on for size Saturday as Philadelphia visits Little Caesars Arena.

But while the individual matchup between Drummond and Embiid drew national notice last year, Pistons coach Dwane Casey said all hands will be on deck to stop Embiid, who has reportedly dropped 20 pounds this season. However, he was listed as questionable to play with a right ankle sprain and a lip injury.

“You got to bring your hard hat,” Casey said after the Pistons’ 117-100 loss to Atlanta in Thursday’s home opener. “It’s a team effort with him.

“Working and fronting him, double-teaming, all of the above as far as slowing him down because he’s a handful.”

Embiid’s 76ers have won five of the six career matchups he’s played against the Pistons.

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In those games, he’s averaging 29 points and 10.7 rebounds, while Drummond posted 13.5 points and 12.5 rebounds. Embiid’s point production in those games were 3.8 points per game higher than his season averages those years, while Drummond’s were 2.7 points lower.

Detroit’s win in those meetings, a 133-132 overtime thriller last season, drew national focus after Drummond was ejected following an Embiid flop. The Cameroon native then laughed and pointed to the locker room as Drummond exited, a common trolling effort by Embiid in his trips to Little Caesars Arena.

“I own real estate in his head,” Embiid said after the game.

Drummond was dominant Wednesday against the Indiana bigs with 32 points, 23 rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists. After scoring 14 points in Thursday’s first half, Drummond attempted just three field goals in the second half as the Pistons offense sputtered on the second game in as many nights.

Drummond said he didn’t feel pressure to score more with Griffin out but wanted to assert himself in the early going.

More: Andre Drummond shows a new skill set in Pistons' opening win

“I felt like I just had to get myself going a little bit earlier than usual, I didn't have time to really ease myself into the game,” Drummond said. “Just a tough night for us overall. You have to look at film, watch what happened, come back and play better against Philly."

Philadelphia acquired five-time All-Star Horford in free agency this offseason, bucking a trend where most teams in the league are going smaller.

It’s a roster construct similar to Detroit’s when Griffin is healthy and the Pacers, who are finding ways to co-exist their big men while Victor Oladipo is out with an injury.

While Pistons reserves Thon Maker and Markieff Morris have struggled out of the gate, Drummond should get some help in the paint Saturday with Christian Wood. After playing four minutes in the opener, Casey did not insert the 6-foot-10 Wood in the Atlanta game.

After ranking second on the team behind Drummond with 13.2 points per game in the preseason, Wood has recorded one turnover as his only stat this season.

“I kick myself in the behind for not getting Christian Wood a little bit more in the game,” Casey said Thursday. “He couldn’t do any worse defensively than what we were doing.

“Everybody is going to get their turn in the barrel.”

76ers at Pistons

Tipoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/104.3

Outlook: Philadelphia is a true contender for the NBA title after adding Al Horford and Josh Richardson to an already solid core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and ex-Piston Tobias Harris. The 76ers' defense will be a true test, and the Pistons will be again be without Blake Griffin, who has knee issues and hamstring soreness. Reggie Jackson also left Thursday's loss to Atlanta early with his lingering back injury and was listed as questionable on Friday.

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.