AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- A depleted Philadelphia Sixers team came to The Palace of Auburn Hills in December and stunned the Detroit Pistons.
The Sixers will be short-handed once again in their return to Michigan on Monday, but the Pistons already know the visitors can't be underestimated.
Philadelphia jumped to a 20-point lead in the first quarter on Dec. 11 and cruised to a 97-79 victory, just its fifth of the season.
"We weren't the least bit ready to play," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said after that debacle.
The Sixers' breakout star, center Joel Embiid, was rested that evening. Point guard Sergio Rodriguez sat out with an illness, and big man Nerlens Noel played just 10 minutes in his season debut. Forward Robert Covington and guard T.J. McConnell led the way, with Covington contributing a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds and McConnell finishing one assist shy of a triple-double.
Embiid won't be available in the second meeting, either, as he will miss his fifth consecutive game with a bone bruise in his left knee. The Sixers also played without Jahlil Okafor (sore right knee) and Covington (bruised right hand) when they were thumped 125-102 by the red-hot Miami Heat on Saturday night.
Heat center Hassan Whiteside overpowered Noel to the tune of 30 points and 20 rebounds in 27 minutes.
"Nerlens came out with the flu," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "And we learned five minutes before game time that Jahlil wasn't going to play. That's life in the NBA."
With Embiid on the mend, Philadelphia (18-32) has lost three straight and five of its past six.
"When we get back into Philly, we will better judge him," Brown told the Philadelphia Daily News about Embiid's potential return. "Obviously, we miss him. Obviously, he's in good hands in Philadelphia."
The Pistons (23-28) are healthy but painfully inconsistent. They followed up home wins over the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves by losing to the Indiana Pacers for the third time this season, 105-84 on Saturday. Detroit was outscored 49-26 in the second half of the road loss as the Pacers turned up their defensive intensity.
"I thought their pressure got to us," Van Gundy said. "I didn't think we could break anyone down off the dribble. We didn't screen well and get people open, we didn't move well without the ball. Their defense was good and we didn't respond to it."
The Pistons, who scored at least 100 points in their previous eight games, committed 21 turnovers.
"They were just way more aggressive than us defensively, the ball was staying in one spot and it was easy for them to cover the ball. Everyone was just watching the ball," Detroit forward Marcus Morris said. "We have to be as aggressive as the other team. We just need to take on the challenge when teams are that aggressive. I have been saying it all year and it's been a concern all year. We've got be better. We have to be more aggressive, and we can't allow teams to impose their will on us."