Game Preview: Houston Rockets vs Philadelphia 76ers

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The Rockets are on a major skid, after their loss to the Celtics, the Rockets fall to 34-15 and have dropped six out of their last 9. The Rockets look to get back on track on the 4th game of their road trip against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Rockets are led in scoring, assists and rebounds by MVP candidate James Harden, at 28.6 points, 11.6 assists, and  8.1 rebounds a game. The Rockets are ranked 3rd in offensive rating, 18th in defensive rating, and 4th in net rating, falling one spot after their last loss.

The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, having won 8 of their last 10, but still sit at just 17-27. The most interesting part of this 76ers run may be that they won only 10 games all of last season, and have hit that mark in just their last 13. Joel 'The Process' Embiid leads the 76ers in scoring and rebounds, at 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, and TJ McConnell leads them in assists at 5.9 assists per game. The 76ers rank 30th in offensive rating, 11th in defensive rating, and 27th in net rating.

Starting Lineups

The Rockets missed sixth man Eric Gordon in Wednesday's loss due to lower back tightness, and he has a 50/50 shot at returning for Friday night. The Rockets will likely start James Harden at point guard, Patrick Beverley at shooting guard, Trevor Ariza at small forward, Ryan Anderson at power forward, and Clint Capela at center, with Eric Gordon getting starter’s minutes as the NBA’s best sixth man - assuming he is ready to play.

After missing three straight games with a knee contusion, Joel Embiid is probable to return to face the Rockets, while Jahlil Okafor is questionable, and Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless are unavailable. The 76ers’ starting five will likely be TJ McConnell at point guard, Nik Stauskas at shooting guard, Robert Covington at small forward, Ersan Ilyasova at power forward, and Joel Embiid at center.

Three Things to Watch

  • 76ers Second Time Around – These two teams last met up on November 14th, and the Rockets rolled by the 76ers (115-88) behind a 33 point game from James Harden. The Rockets were able to dominate the glass, which was a big part of their victory, winning the rebound battle 55-39. Watch to see if the new and improved 76ers can keep a struggling Rockets team off the glass and take away their biggest advantage from the last match-up.

  • Dead Legs – The Rockets have had arguably the toughest schedule in the league so far as they will be tied for first in games played after tomorrow, will lead in away games played by 3 games, and haven't had multiple days off in almost a month - and it appears the schedule has started to take it's toll. Since the beginning of January the Rockets are shooting just 33.4% from three (3rd worst in the league during that span), and have been slow to rebounds and on defensive rotations. Watch to see if the Rockets are able to take advantage of a day off and get their legs back under them for another win streak.

  • Win the Turnover Battle – Not many teams are worse than the Rockets at taking care of the ball (26th in turnover rate), so when they face a team that is worse, they must take advantage. Due to their youth the 76ers turn the ball over more than any other team in the league, committing 15.4 turnovers on average over 100 possessions. That has been a big reason for their league-worst offensive rating. Watch to see if the Rockets perimeter defenders, specifically Ariza and Beverley, are able to take advantage and force turnovers in order to get the Rockets easy points in transition.


Prediction and Tip-Off

Please Rockets, please win this game. I predict the Rockets will pull through, but if they don't it may be time to have real concerns about this team in the long run.

Tip-off will be at 7:00 P.M. Central Time in Philadelphia on Friday, January 27th. The game will be televised on ESPN, with the radio broadcast on Sports Talk 790-AM

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