Kyle Lowry's play late in the fourth quarter helped lead Houston to a big win over Philadelphia Wednesday.
WHO: Rockets 93, Sixers 87.
WHAT: The Rockets currently sit 6th in the West at 20-14 overall. If the Lakers lose tonight to Oklahoma City, they can tie L.A. for fifth heading into the All-Star break. Houston enters the six-day break with a load of momentum, going 17-7 since starting the season 3-7. The Rockets are 7-3 in their last 10 games.
WHAT HAPPENED?: Four words: Kyle Lowry. Chandler Parsons. Lowry’s play late in the fourth quarter – two three-point plays and taking a charge – sealed the deal for the Rockets against a quality Sixers team that leads the East’s Atlantic Division. Lowry had 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but it was the way he took command late that left an impression. Should they make the playoffs, the Rockets are going to need to find that guy to go to late in games. Right now, it’s Lowry. While Lowry paced Houston on the offensive end, Parsons continued to shine defensively. Parsons did not have a steal or a block, yet he played sound defense in the post and was just a pest all over the floor on that end, using textbook positioning and taking advantage of his length and athleticism against a lengthy and athletic Sixers squad. He also hit some big buckets in the fourth quarter. He has solidified himself as Houston’s glue guy just 33 games into his rookie season.
DOUBLE DIP FOR SCOLA: Luis Scola had a double-double with a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds. He hit half of his 16 shot attempts and just, overall, looked alive offensively. He still needs to do a better job of making plays at a rim. He was 3-of-5 from three feet or closer, but just 5-of-11 away, including 2-of-6 from his beloved range of 16-23 feet. The Rockets are better off when Scola is posted up and using his scoop shot or jump hook in the lane opposed to spotting up 20 feet from the basket. As we get further into the season, they’re going to need to find some easy buckets inside, and right now, he’s the most obvious threat.
SHORTENED ROTATION: Rockets coach Kevin McHale went with an eight-man rotation this game, which is a bit odd since depth is one of the team’s strengths. Yes, Jordan Hill was injured, but he had some weapons at his disposal in big man Greg Smith and athletic wing Marcus Morris. Chase Budinger only played six minutes. Lowry, Scola and Kevin Martin played 34 or more minutes. Morris’ DNP and Budinger’s little time are especially strange, since Martin wasn’t exactly lighting it up. McHale has praised his improved defense of late, but Martin went 5-of-12 from the field and 2-of-6 from 3-point range. On a team that needs attackers and efficiency from deep, you’d think Morris and Budinger could have seen more time in a game where points were precious.
ROCKETS’ DIAPER DANDIES UPDATE: Neither of the Rockets’ rookies played. Greg Smith and Marcus Morris both sat this one out, though both were active. Morris has not played for the Rockets since being recalled Monday. Smith is going to have a hard time cracking the rotation when Scola, Samuel Dalembert and Patrick Patterson are all playing well.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?: It means the Rockets can go into the break with smiles on their faces, having won seven of their last 10 games, including some impressive bouts against Philadelphia, Memphis and Utah. Houston took care of business on its four-game homestand to go into the break, winning three. The Rockets are 3 1/2 games back of first place in the Southwest Division, and you get the sense that a move or two may be made before the trade deadline, which is a good thing. Houston may eke out a playoff series win with this group, but it is far from a finished project. They have admirably overachieved to this point, however, and have embraced McHale’s principles.