PHILADELPHIA — Phoenix's Eric Bledsoe smiled and explained he was only joking when he said the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats could defeat the winless Philadelphia 76ers in a series.
No harm, no foul.
Well, not quite.
He might have wished he could take it back after Nerlens Noel knocked him on his back only 30 seconds into the game. Noel showed some rare fight for the hapless Sixers, wasting no time sticking up for his team, even if it meant former Wildcat-on-Wildcat abuse.
Bledsoe shook off the foul and the one-liner to turn this one into the latest laughter in Philly.
Isaiah Thomas scored 23 points and Markieff Morris had 18 to lead the Suns past the Sixers 122-96 on Friday night.
The Sixers have lost their first 12 games and are just six losses shy of matching the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets for worst start in NBA history.
They need four more straight losses to top the 1972-73 Sixers for worst start (0-15) in team history and could challenge those 76ers as the worst 82-game season team (9-73) in NBA history.
"I respect those guys over there," Bledsoe there. "We could have come out and lost this game."
Bledsoe said this week Kentucky could beat the Sixers in a playoff series and Philadelphia might be able to take one game. Noel failed to find the humor and went after Bledsoe and fouled him. Bledsoe popped right up and ran his chest into Noel. The two exchanged words and had to be separated as the crowd cheered in delight.
Bledsoe said he was warned by an unnamed Sixer that he would get mauled in the paint.
"Word got back to me," he said. "You could tell (it was intentional). Look at the tape."
Noel, who had three points and five rebounds, said he was just trying to protect the rim.
"I thought I blocked the shot, at first," he said. "Then I felt his head. It's nothing personal."
Perhaps fueled by Noel's early moxie, the Sixers grabbed a nine-point lead and led 27-26 at the end of the quarter.
Stick that quarter on Philadelphia's season highlight reel. There was nothing else to pick the rest of the game.
In the final box, Noel's foul meant nothing.
"I don't know what message you're going to send," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "So you fouled him hard. Big deal."
The Suns shot 69 percent in the first half and easily shook off the early challenge with a 20-4 run to win their third straight game.
The Suns scored 41 points in the second quarter. Thomas opened the quarter with a driving layup for the lead, Noel clanged both free throws and Gerald Green hit a 3-pointer to turn the game around.
Thomas and Green sparked a bench effort that saw the Suns go 14 of 17 in the half for 36 points. The Sixers scored 44 total points in the half.
Thomas made all five shots from the floor, all five free throws and was 2 of 2 from 3-point range for a flawless 17 points.
Six other Suns scored in double figures. The Suns led by as many as 34 points and made 21 of 23 free throws.
Philly's K.J. McDaniels muffed an alley-oop and had a layup waved off at the horn in the third. With the Sixers down 31 in the third, what was left of another thin crowd booed the Sixers off the court headed into a timeout.
The Suns rested their starters in the fourth.
"We tried to tell those guys to come out in the third quarter and really go after it so we could rest," Hornacek said.
Michael Carter-Williams led the Sixers with 18 points.
The Sixers were left hoping Saturday's game at New York will be the one that ends the winless skid.
Suns: P.J. Tucker was whistled for a technical foul. ... Anthony Toliver and Marcus Morris each hit three 3-pointers. The Suns hit 13s on 31 attempts (42 percent).
76ers: Philadelphia forward JaKarr Sampson was assigned to the Delaware 87ers of the NBA Development League. ... The 76ers haven't won since last season's finale on April 16. ... In NBA history, two teams have started 0-13; three have started 0-15; one started 0-16; two started 0-17 and the Nets were 0-18, according to STATS LLC. ... Carter-Williams, Noel and Tony Wroten started together for the first time this season.
The Suns scored a season-high 122 points, the sixth time they have scored 110-plus points this season. The Sixers have allowed 110 or more points five times this season, including 120-plus three times.
Suns: At Indiana on Saturday.
76ers: At New York on Saturday.