After a heartbreaking two-point loss at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers (30-17) will look to regroup as they face another tough opponent tonight in Philly: Houston Rockets (26-19).
And the Sixers’ loss to OKC wasn’t just any heart-breaker, it was devastating. With 5.1 seconds remaining in the game, Paul George would pull off a four-point play that would give Philadelphia the 117-115 loss.
As a friend once told me, however, “a tear in a bucket, then [explicit] it.”
That’s the mindset that the 76ers will have to come into tonight with, as there won’t be any time for sadness squaring off against a James Harden-led Rockets team. Harden has been incredible this season, particularly the past three games where he’s scored 163 points, and here’s the kicker: None of his points have been assisted.
The man is literally creating offense by himself.
For the Sixers’ offense, it’s been fantastic despite the loss against the Thunder. Joel Embiid was a force for Philadelphia, leading the way 31 points. He also added eight rebounds and six assists to the stat sheet. Ben Simmons was also active, to say the least. He nearly had a triple-double compiling 20 points, 15 rebounds and also added nine assists to his line.
For Embiid, in particular, he now has 20 games scoring at least 30 points — that ranks second in the NBA just behind, well look at that, James Harden of the Houston Rockets. We’ll get to more of that guy here in a bit. The last Philadelphia 76er who was able to achieve that feat through the first half of the season: Allen Iverson.
Despite the power of Embiid and the rest of the statistics coming from Philadelphia, there may be some lingering chemistry issues that need to be worked out before April for the 76ers. On the last possession against Oklahoma City, Simmons looked extraordinarily confused when passing the ball to Jimmy Butler past the three-point line — it obviously resulted in a failed attempt, and the loss in a playoff environment.
There’s a bright spot, however: Despite the missed opportunity from Butler on Saturday, Butler has already hit two prior game-winning shots for the Sixers — a 122-119 win over the Charlotte Hornets and a 127-125 victory over the Brooklyn Nets — proving that the clutch-gene is there for Philadelphia, they just need to squeeze out the confusion.
On the end of the Houston Rockets, it’s been fantastic basketball — and yet a bit of a struggle at 26-19. On Saturday against a LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers team, Houston had to return from a 21-point deficit in order to steal the 108-104 win — and it took overtime to do it, at home. A win is a win, but the quality wasn’t the best.
Unless you’re James Harden.
Against Los Angeles, Harden was his usual self with a hefty 48 points. It was his 19th consecutive game scoring at least 30 points — just incredible basketball. Another crazy statistic: In the past 13 games, ‘The Beard’ has scored at least 40 in 10 of them — just bananas. Harden also added eight rebounds, six assists and four steals to the stat sheet in the game against the Lakers.
Houston also got solid contributions from Eric Gordon against Los Angeles. He would put down 30 points in a rally, and would also show off the fact that the Rockets have a clutch-gene themselves — Gordon would hit the last-second three-pointer that would send the game into overtime before Houston ultimately got the win. Even better, this comes after Gordon’s return from a sore knee.
The most important factor for the Rockets was that they got the win, and kept their position in playoff seeding. They’re currently ranked in the No. 5 spot with the San Antonio Spurs right on their tail only a half-game back. Houston is 5.5 games behind the Golden State Warriors for the lead in the Western Conference.
For the Sixers, they’re ranked 4th in the Eastern Conference 4.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the lead. Boston is 1.5 games behind them in the No. 5 position.
Last season, the Rockets and 76ers split the season series. And it should also be mentioned that Houston will be trying to avoid back-to-back losses in Philadelphia since 2013.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CHECK THE NUMBERS
Sorry, Rockets fans. But you come in with no edge (well, except one), and the numbers get even worse considering the health of Houston. In scoring the ball, the Rockets place with a tally of 112.6 PPG, a -3 disadvantage, and the shooting has only been average at 44.7 FG% — also -3. In rebounding, the Rockets pull down 42.0 RPG, which is a pretty heavy margin at -5 considering the statistics already. On defense, that’s the only advantage for the Houston Rockets sitting at +2 — they tally 112.2 PA.
In all of the major statistical categories, the Sixers come in with all of the advantages except on ‘D’, and the overall edge is pretty substantial. In offensive production, Philadelphia has a +3 advantage in scoring putting up 115.4 PPG, and in field goal percentage, it’s +3 again hitting a solid 47.3 FG% of their shots. On the boards, the 76ers have a nice-sized advantage at +5, and they’ve been elite on the boards nearly hitting the 50 mark at 47.6 RPG. On the defensive side, that’s the only negative for the Sixers with 112.2 PA at -2.
There are three strikes right away against the Houston Rockets entering tonight’s matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers: 1. They’re on the road. 2. The only statistical advantage they have is a +2 edge on defense. And 3. They’re not healthy being without Clint Capela and Chris Paul.
The good news for the Rockets is that they’re 8-2 against the 76ers in their last 10 games, but that’s also been through that “process” that Joel Embiid kept referring to. With Philadelphia being one of the top teams in the NBA now and completely healthy for the most part at home, how can anybody take the Rockets in this game tonight? (Especially after that struggle against the Los Angeles Lakers)
Now I’m not saying tonight will be a blowout, Houston will stay in it for the overall game with the elite scoring of James Harden, and also solid contributions from Eric Gordon. But those two will eventually get worn out against Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler (if he plays, and I think he will.) Rockets keep pace, but Sixers cruise in the end.