NBA Pick: Philadelphia 76ers at Houston Rockets – Friday, January 3

  • THE MATCHUP: Philadelphia 76ers at Houston Rockets
  • WHEN IS IT: Friday, January 3, 8:00 PM ET
  • THE LOCATION: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
  • TELEVISION: ESPN, AT&T Sportsnet-Southwest, NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Philadelphia 76ers are now on a stretch where they’ve lost three straight games, and the reactions from the Sixers were your stereotypical answers, but they were also laced with non-hesitant honesty. The losing isn’t even their biggest challenge either, it’s whether or not they can transition their own criticism into winning performances.

On Tuesday night, the Indiana Pacers would absolutely wax the 76ers, delivering them an 18-point defeat — the loss would provide Philly their second three-game losing streak in just a little over a couple of weeks. Afterwards, nearly everybody on the team expressed their frustration. In the Sixers defense, they were without big-man Joel Embiid in that game due to a knee injury, but even then, the loss was worse than just the absence of Embiid. The Sixers’ play was completely out of wack, and even a healthy Embiid probably wouldn’t have masqueraded the bad performance. But again, in Philadelphia’s defense, they weren’t looking for excuses at all. They knew they were bad.

Statistical Comparison: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Houston Rockets

Offensive Production

Points-Per-Game

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 109.6 PPG
  • Houston Rockets: 119.4 PPG

Field Goal Percentage

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 47.0 FG%
  • Houston Rockets: 45.5 FG%

Assists-Per-Game

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 26.4 APG
  • Houston Rockets: 21.6 APG

Defensive Protection

Points Allowed-Per-Game

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 105.4 PA
  • Houston Rockets: 114.0 PA

Blocks-Per-Game

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 5.8 BLK
  • Houston Rockets: 5.0 BLK

Steals-Per-Game

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 8.4 STL
  • Houston Rockets: 8.2 STL

Rebounding

Rebounds-Per-Game

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 46.2 RPG
  • Houston Rockets: 47.1 RPG

Current Stretch

Winning/Losing Streak

  • Philadelphia 76ers: L3
  • Houston Rockets: W1

Last 10 Games

  • Philadelphia 76ers: 4-6
  • Houston Rockets: 7-3

Last Five Games

  • Philadelphia 76ers: at Indiana Pacers (L 115-97), at Miami Heat (L 117-116 OT), at Orlando Magic (L 98-97), vs. Milwaukee Bucks (W 121-109), at Detroit Pistons (W 125-109)
  • Houston Rockets: vs. Denver Nuggets (W 130-104), at New Orleans Pelicans (L 127-112), vs. Brooklyn Nets (W 108-98), at Golden State Warriors (L 116-104), at Sacramento Kings (W 113-104)

Team Leaders

Points

  • Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers): 23.7 PPG, 47.7 FG%, 83.4 FT%
  • James Harden (Houston Rockets): 38.2 PPG, 46.1 FG%, 86.0 FT%

Rebounds

  • Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers): 12.4 RPG, 9.8 DRPG, 2.6 ORPG
  • Clint Capela (Houston Rockets): 14.2 RPG, 10.3 DRPG, 4.0 ORPG

Assists

  • Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers): 8.5 APG, 3.7 TOPG, 35.1 MPG
  • James Harden (Houston Rockets): 7.5 APG, 4.7 TOPG, 37.5 MPG

On Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers (23-13) now take on the Houston Rockets (23-11), and this to close out a four-game road trip that they’ve been on. So if you’re the Sixers, you have to think: What a better way to make up for the blowout to the Pacers than to take out the Rockets — one of the best teams in the Western Conference — on your road trip finale? And also, what’s a better way to deliver on your own criticism? The motivation is certainly there for Philadelphia.

“In all honesty, I think what we have to do is look one another in the eye and look ourselves in the mirror and evaluate and take ownership on our own individual play, and then figure out individually what we can do better one-on-one as a man and come to the table and try to mesh that together as a team,” Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris would state.

“We just need to come together and really sit down and talk about it — defense and offense,” said Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons. “It’s times we look like a championship team, and there are nights … where don’t look like we should even be here. We’ve got to take ownership of that, look in the mirror and say what we want out of this team.”

Back on Christmas Day, everything was sweet for the Sixers, appearing to be a thoroughbred contender for the NBA championship as they would absolutely destroy the Milwaukee Bucks — the first place team in the Eastern Conference. However, Philadelphia hasn’t won since that game, and this has given the franchise heavy concerns regarding their offensive potency, and as far as their defense and the high expectations on them at the beginning of the season, they haven’t been delivering with the exception of a few occasions. With their potency, it clearly takes a hit when you remove Embiid from the lineup, but Philadelphia does have enough talent to help balance it out when he sits — they just haven’t done it enough this season.

And that’s been the reason for not just their criticism on themselves, but also from outside sources — and it’s deserved. The Sixers know that, and they haven’t hidden away from any of the heat. After all, Philadelphia knows their roster was put together to be a championship team, and right now, it just isn’t that.

“I don’t think that there’s enough accountability in our locker room right now,” stated Philadelphia 76ers guard Josh Richardson. “I think that’s where a lot of our problems start.”

For the Houston Rockets, they were brilliant in a 130-104 thrashing of the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, and not only would they win, they were very effective in countering the double-team that was put on James Harden, the Rockets’ All-NBA guard — something that they’ve gotten used to from opponents throughout the entire season. Against Denver, Houston was much quicker and efficient in moving the ball away from Harden as soon as the double-team hit him. The movement was so quick from the Rockets that the Nuggets would eventually back off of that game plan.

Things should get better for Houston as well, especially considering their guard Eric Gordon has successfully returned from knee surgery. With Gordon, the Rockets get another excellent shooter, particularly from behind the arc, and with Harden getting double-teamed, this will certainly open up Gordon a lot more to hit easy perimeter shots when the pass is quickly handed to him. With that being said, Houston will certainly be careful with bringing back Gordon from a serious injury, but eventually, that segment of the Rockets’ strategy will play its part, and it’ll be super effective at that adding to the potency of their offense.

Injury Report

Philadelphia 76ers

  • Joel Embiid: Day-To-Day (Knee)
  • Ben Simmons: Day-To-Day (Illness)
  • Kyle O’Quinn: Day-To-Day (Illness)
  • James Ennis III: Out (Illness)

Houston Rockets

  • James Harden: Day-To-Day (Toe)
  • Clint Capela: Day-To-Day (Heel)

“He’ll add a whole other dimension and makes it easier on everybody,” Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni would tell reporters. “Another guy that can either iso or go through what we do and he spreads the floor even more than what we spread it. There’s a lot of benefits with him playing.

“And defensively, no one talks about he’s one of our best defenders on ball, and if he gets switched off he can guard bigs. There’s a lot of things to Eric’s game that are not talked about that are really important to us.”

So, Who’s Going to Win?

On Thursday, Joel Embiid was a full participant in practice, and that’s an absolutely fantastic sign for Philadelphia regarding his availability on Friday against the Houston Rockets. With that being said, the Sixers still have the potential to get dominated by top teams with Embiid in the lineup, such as the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers — both would defeat Philadelphia recently.

Spread:

  • Philadelphia +4.5 (-110)
  • Houston -4.5 (-115)
Money line:

  • Philadelphia +173
  • Houston -190
Total Points:

  • Over 227.5 (-110)
  • Under 227.5 (-110)

The Rockets in particular don’t have the same quality defense as the Heat and Pacers, but they do have an offense that’s on a more superior level than those two teams, so it balances out. With James Harden and Russell Westbrook, this gives Houston a massive scoring machine that they can always go to, especially in clutch times. So what does that mean? Defeating Houston isn’t a matter of just containing Harden, but now you have Westbrook to worry about as well.

The main issue for the Sixers this season is the fact that Embiid can’t get any consistent offensive support from his teammates. Against the Rockets, they’re playing them in Houston and that’s a place where they’re quite hard to take out, and it’s going to be hard to place any faith in Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris to put up some points. But that’s not all for Philadelphia, they also have their dismal losing 7-11 record on the road this season, and the 76ers have actually made teams look flashy on their home court. Altogether, their opponents have shot a lethal 46.9 FG% combined at their home arena.

GAME FORECAST
According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Houston Rockets have a 63.0% chance of winning the game over the Philadelphia 76ers and their 37.0% figure.

So, here’s how I’m seeing it, and I’ll keep it simple: Look for the Philadelphia press (and the national media at that) to freak out even more over the 76ers on Monday, because I’m seeing a fourth consecutive loss for them against the Rockets here on Friday. Philly just can’t hang with Harden, Westbrook and the rest of Houston’s offense. Give me the Houston Rockets for the victory, as well as to cover the spread. Go ahead and take the over too with the O/U being at 227, these offenses can score.

BETTING PREDICTION: Houston Rockets 118, Philadelphia 76ers 112

Andrew Powell / Author

Andrew Powell has been working with The Sports Geek since November 2018 providing analysis and predictions in both the realms of sports and politics. Studying journalism through the University of Michigan, Powell's experience in sports includes tenures at mainstream newspapers The Williamsport Sun-Gazette and The Lock Haven Express, and he would also be affiliated with FOX Sports Radio 1340 AM in Hopewell, Virginia. In politics, it would include a stint with Mad World News and multiple with the Republican Party. From the Super Bowl to The Kentucky Derby to President Donald Trump's hair, Powell has you covered at The Sports Geek.