PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Dr. J heard the roaring ovation from the Philly die-hards, an expected appreciation for the Hall of Famer.
The loudest chant was saved for Spencer Hawes.
On a night the Philadelphia 76ers honored their former greats, this year's team showed they're worth watching.
Hawes had 16 points and 14 rebounds, Jodie Meeks scored 21 points, and the Sixers beat the Detroit Pistons 96-73 on Friday night.
In front of Julius Erving and their new owners, the Sixers dominated the fourth quarter to win their home opener. Majority owner Joshua Harris and CEO Adam Aron promised sweeping changes to the fan experience, slashing ticket prices, revamping the lighting, and even mingling with fans for more feedback.
The biggest change, though, is at center, where Hawes has suddenly morphed from accessory piece to regular double-double threat. He had a crowd of nearly 20,000 fans chanting ``Spen-cer Hawes!' in the third quarter after a string of big shots and dominated a short-handed Pistons team on the boards.
``It caught me off guard a little bit,' a smiling Hawes said of the chant. ``It felt good just to see all the fans back here and play in front of them here in Philly.'
Hawes already has four double-doubles and has taken pressure off forward Elton Brand down low.
He had more help on the perimeter.
Meeks scored nine points in 54 seconds in the fourth to stretch the lead to 16 and put the Sixers' third straight victory out of reach. He scored 17 points in the fourth on 6 of 7 shooting - including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
``You could see him just be delighted to finally see that ball go through the basket,' coach Doug Collins said.
Greg Monroe had 22 points for the Pistons. Ben Gordon was absent because of personal reasons and Rodney Stuckey sat out with a sore groin.
The Pistons missed all 10 3-pointers and shot 36 percent overall.
``When the dam exploded, it really exploded,' Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said.
While the Sixers showed they have a bright future, this game was as much an event to highlight the franchise's past. Erving received a huge ovation during a pregame ceremony. Moses Malone and Andrew Toney also were on hand for the festivities. The trio helped the Sixers to the 1983 NBA championship.
``It was a great feeling to see those guys come back,' Brand said.
Harris admitted before the game the Sixers had sold less than 3,000 tickets to the opener as of about three weeks ago. But a flurry of discounted tickets (some going for the ``patriotic price' of $17.76) and plenty of giveaways nearly packed the place.
Collins had said his team became relevant last year.
This season, he wants them to become important.
Led by Hawes, Meeks and one of the top benches in the NBA, the Sixers should have their first winning record since the 2004-05 season.
New owners are selling a disconnected fan base on the game experience. With the way the Sixers are blossoming into winners, the fans could be sold on the team.
``We'll roll it all out tonight and I think we're ready for it,' Harris said. ``With that, though, the team has to win. We've said all along that we're a little worried to do all this and the team doesn't win. But under Doug's leadership, that's what's happened. We're really excited about where we are right now.'
The Sixers gave them plenty of reason in the fourth to get excited. Meeks buried a 3-pointer, then charged down on the next possession for a three-point play. He buried another 3 to give him nine points during an 11-1 run that bust the game open.
Lou Williams scored 16 points and Thaddeus Young had 15.
Williams addressed the fans before the game and told them, ``We won't let you down.'
There was one notable absence: minority owner, rapper, actor and Philadelphia native Will Smith.
``We had hoped to have Will Smith here. He was originally planning to come,' Harris said. ``Any time you can get someone like Will Smith in the arena, believe me, we're going to try and do that. L.A.'s a long way from Philadelphia.'
Erving made the trip two months after more than 140 items from his personal collection sold for a record $3.5 million in an auction. The Sixers had hoped to bring Erving on board with an unspecified role in the organization. He didn't seem interested.
``I'm not looking for a job, just an adventure,' he said.
The Sixers showed a videotaped ringing of the Liberty Bell and fired off enough red, white and blue confetti to make it seem like the NBA finals after the final buzzer.
Notes: Brandon Knight and Austin Daye started for the Pistons for the missing regulars. ... The Sixers started a stretch of 18 of 22 games at home over a 36-day span. ... Frank didn't blame two absent starters for the loss. ``That's no excuse. They just beat us.' ... The Sixers are 4-2 for the first time since 2002-03.
The Associated Press News Service
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