A young team learning to win on the road is a sports cliche you can just about count on during a rebuild.
While this season could’ve been different, with league health protocols the same everywhere, the Pistons fell victim to the trope this season.
A 118-104 loss in Philadelphia on Saturday night ended the Pistons’ road season at 7-29, which will be the NBA’s worst mark.
“We’ve got to stick together: You versus everyone once you’re on the road,” said Saddiq Bey, one of five Detroit rookies who combined for 100 minutes of action on Saturday. “I think it’s us sticking together for the future, and knowing we have to improve on that next season.”
Going up against an MVP candidate on Saturday night surely didn’t help.
Joel Embiid scored 29 points in 23 minutes for the 76ers, who should soon clinch the best record in the East.
But with four games left for the Pistons in the season’s final eight days, there is still much to be decided as the league’s worst teams shake out NBA Draft lottery positioning.
The dirty not-so-secret truth is the Pistons are better off losing all four, starting Sunday night against Chicago.
Then, a crucial lottery positioning showdown looms with Minnesota on Tuesday. Both teams enter Sunday’s games with 20 wins apiece, the second-lowest in the NBA.
Minnesota is at 21-win Orlando on Sunday.
League-worst Houston went into their late Saturday night game against league-best Utah with 16 wins.
All that to say the loss on Saturday night was a welcomed one for Pistons fans thinking about ping-pong balls and draft prospects like Cade Cunningham.
But whoever the Pistons select will be joining a legitimate young core that showed off enough Saturday night to evoke hope, as they have throughout this down season.
Bey and Jerami Grant, who returned to the lineup after missing five games, scored 14 points apiece to lead the Pistons.
Veteran Mason Plumlee had 12 points in his first game after also missing five, while 20-year-old Sekou Doumbouya continued his recent strong play with 12.
Rookie Killian Hayes, who missed Thursday’s win against Memphis with an illness, had 10 points and six assists. Frank Jackson added 11 points, and Deividas Sirvydis set career highs with six points in 23 minutes.
Sirvydis did his damage in the first half, even flashing some playmaking skills by leading the break and finding a streaking Doumbouya for a score.
Pistons coach Dwane Casey said the rookie Lithuanian flashes his handles in practice and is one of the hardest workers on the team.
Sirvydis can be seen shooting in an empty Little Caesars Arena long after games, polishing his top skill that could be his ticket to sticking around in the league.
“He’s one of the better shooters on our team,” Casey said. “And he’s fearless.”
Dwight Howard scored 19 points and had 14 rebounds for the Sixers, who were without starters Ben Simmons and Seth Curry on the second half of a back to back. Rookie Tyrese Maxey had 22 points.
Philadelphia opened the game with an 11-2 run then closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run. The Sixers opened a 39-17 lead early in the second quarter.
Detroit brought the lead to single digits briefly in the second quarter, but Embiid re-entered the game and scored eight straight Philly points to regain command.
Sirvydis played the entire second quarter, in which the Pistons outscored Philly 26-22. He finished the game with a plus-6 in the box score.
“That was an awesome feeling,” he said. “I just got to stay ready all the time.
“I’ve had a huge improvement in coming off the bench, and my teammates have been looking for me.”
Villanova’s Bey, who was playing back in his college town, had 12 points in the third quarter. But Howard helped keep the Pistons at arm’s length, combining with Embiid for 48 points from Philly centers, who are both on Hall of Fame tracks.
The Sixers will be tasked now with learning to win in the playoffs, a lesson that’s several steps away for the young Pistons.
After the all-important clash with the Timberwolves on Tuesday, Detroit’s season will wrap with Denver on Friday and Miami on Sunday.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.