Let's get this out in the open: The 76ers beat an undermanned Minnesota Timberwolves team on Wednesday and outlasted the poor-shooting and woefully constructed Detroit Pistons three days later.

On the surface, that's not something to get hyped up about.

But we are talking about the same Sixers team that only a couple of weeks ago had some people thinking it could lose to the University of Kentucky. It's the same team that has seven undrafted free agents, the lowest payroll in the NBA, and is the youngest team in league history.

But regardless of the Pistons' and Timberwolves' quality of play, the Sixers (2-18) did win two of their last three games after opening the season with 17 straight losses.

"I can see that we are getting better," forward Luc Mbah a Moute said. "No question that the way we've played the last, I guess, eight games is much better than how we started the season. And that's what's important [more than wins and losses]. I think for a young team like our team that's what counts."

Opponents toyed with the Sixers at the start of the season, letting them remain close for two or three quarters. Then, like flipping a switch, opponents would put the game out of reach.

The Toronto Raptors on Nov. 9 and Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 13 were two opponents who didn't pace themselves. The Sixers lost those games by a combined 85 points.

"We've come a long way since that [Dallas] game," Nerlens Noel said. "We don't want to lose like that. We don't want to be remembered as a team [that gets blown out.].

"We have coach [Brett] Brown leading us and the return of Mike [Carter-Williams]. I think everybody to jelling a lot better now."

No one can argue about Michael Carter-Williams' production over the last five games. The point guard recorded a double-double in three of the last four games. He had a triple-double five games ago.

Not bad for someone who's finally getting back into shape after being sidelined for six months following right shoulder surgery in May. His first game was the blowout loss at Dallas.

Brown has been an effective motivator during what has been a difficult time. He knows that his team shouldn't be competitive. Yet Brown won't settle for the Sixers' playing without unrelenting energy and spirit, no matter whether they are down 30 points or ahead by 12.

"That's just the way it is," Brown said of his team playing with spirit. "And it's all we got. So we will roll young guys out and play with that spirit, again, and try to find a way to get another win.

"This group is really resilient."

"We are hungry," Hollis Thompson said. "We are out there. We are getting better every day. We want to come out here and prove ourselves. So we are going to play to the end. It's that simple."

Critics may point out that the Sixers are fortunate to get the two wins they have.

The Pistons have been one of the league's biggest underachievers. They traded for point guard Brandon Jennings and signed forward Josh Smith to a free-agent deal in July 2013. But they were just added to a struggling bunch that went 29-53 last season and are 13-18 - including a current 12-game losing streak - after the home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 96-94, on Sunday.

Three days earlier, the Sixers beat a Timberwolves squad (4-15) without three injured starters in point guard Ricky Rubio (sprained left ankle), shooting guard Kevin Martin (fractured right foot), and center Nikola Pekovic (sprained right wrist). Reserve center Ronny Turiaf (soreness in his right hip) also missed the game with an injury.

But a month ago, the Sixers would have lost both games.

"I definitely think it's a pride thing," Noel said. "Playing for the city of Philadelphia, I think it means a lot. I think some of the guys are starting to learn that."

@PompeyOnSixers

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