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Game Day: Houston Rockets Mired in Slump Look to Keep 76ers Win-less

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Game Day: Philadelphia 76ers versus Houston Rockets

To say the Houston Rockets are in desperate need of a win is to put too fine a point on the situation in Clutch City at the moment.

After 15 games the squad are fourth in the Southwest division ahead of only the New Orleans Pelicans who are on a 3-game win streak with Omer Asik (remember him?) back and TyReke Evans scheduled to return this week. If you believe the situation couldn’t get worse, it can as the Rockets rank 13th in the West and 26th overall. With the removal of Division winners getting an automatic bye into the playoffs more than ever solid records are important this season. If there is a silver lining it’s that aside from a few teams (Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City) most teams are all within range — for now.

While the Rockets have looked better defensively in their last 3 games it hasn’t translated into wins so they need to turn their defensive effort up a notch and bring it for a full 48 minutes. Obviously a win won’t turn around the season or Houston’s abysmal start, but it will give the something to build on moving forward.

Before you automatically check off a W in the win column remember any team can win on any given night. Just because the Rockets play the winless 76ers you should know they’ve been in a lot of games with their issue being maintaining leads and closing out games. Philly had the Heat and Celtics on the ropes, but in the clutch minutes these savvier veteran squads found a way to close out the game and shift it to their favor.

The worry today will be how the zebras call this game if the Association wants to avoid a team showcasing futility. There are three records the 76ers are approaching:

  • Tying last season wort start in franchise history 0-17
  • Most losses to start a season in the NBA (the New Jersey Nets currently own that record with an 0-18 start in 2009-10)
  • Most consecutive losses by a major league franchise (Philly tied the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL record of 26 consecutive losses with their loss to Boston as per NBA.com with the 76ers currently sitting on

In other words a loss tonight will tie their worst franchise start, set a record for most consecutive losses (27) and set them up to tie New Jersey’s worst NBA season start when they play Memphis on Sunday. The only silver lining for Philly is their 19 game will come versus the Lakers which would offer them an opportunity not to own every record of futility in major league sports.

Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves because we barely beat Portland and lost to the woeful Brooklyn Nets, so a modicum of restraint is essential for this match-up. The Rockets need to stay focused on their defensive principles and not let the opponent over shadow their goal of improving and notching their own W.

The Details

Venue:   Toyota Center, Houston, Texas

Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT

TV: ROOT in Houston and CSN

Radio: 790 AM and 97.5 AM

Recent History:

November 14, 2014: HOU 104 – 93 PHI

November 3, 2014: PHI 87 – 88 HOU

Walking Wounded:

76ers:

Rockets:

  • Sam Dekker – back surgery November 20 , will be out 3 months
  • Donatas Motiejunas – still recovering from off season back surgery, scheduled for December 1st reassessment

Projected Starters:

76ers: Isaiah Canaan, T.J. McConnellRobert Covington, Nerlens NoelJahlil Okafor

Rockets: Jason Terry, James HardenTrevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard

Grading the Match-ups:

Point Guard Isaiah Canaan- versus Jason Terry

This should be an interesting match-up given the former Rocket will be looking to make a statement about what Morey traded away. We’ll see how many minutes Terry logs against the youngster and if Beverley or Lawson end up receiving the bulk of the minutes. Canaan has shown a propensity to jack up shots, so watch for him to do so again. He’s a streaky shooter, so if he starts connecting it could be a long night.

Edge: Rockets group of 3 points guards

Shooting Guard:  T.J. McConnell vs. James Harden

McConnell has showcased some moxie of late, but he’s no match for the bearded man. The strange thing about Harden is the better he does the worse the team seems to perform. After posting another 40 point effort versus Memphis the team still lost. Perhaps the answer is to expend his effort on the defensive end of the floor and since he refuses to let the point guards run the point to run pick and rolls for the bigs to get their offensive production up. At least then the opposition won’t just line up to double and triple team him.

Edge: James Harden

Small Forward: Robert Covington  vs  Trevor Ariza

Covington has produced some great efforts in his past 3 games registering a double-double versus Boston (11 points, 14 boards) along with 6 steals. In the game against Minnesota his 18 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals likely were what led to him being re-inserted into the starting line-up. And, in the game where the Sixers almost beat Miami he scored 21 points, added 6 rebounds and snatched 2 steals.  Is it any coincidence these were the games Philly came close to winning until self destructing in the final frame.

Ariza continues to provide the most consistent minutes on the team though his shooting abandoned him versus Memphis. He’s carried a load especially when his court mates aren’t dialed in defensively, but if the team continues to build upon their defensive focus it should only be a matter of time until they string together some victories.

Slight Edge: Trevor Ariza
Covington got a bit lucky facing Deng in Miami who was nursing a sore hamstring, an undersized Shabazz Muhammad and veteran Tayshaun Prince in Minnesota and the another undersized small forward in Jae Crowder in Boston. Ariza’s length and ability to hit from outside should translate into forcing Covington into a long night on both ends of the court.

Power Forward: Nerlens Noel vs Terrence Jones

.Though a defensive talent Noel has showcased an inability to to shoot well outside the paint and his 1 for 7 night versus Boston speaks to his inconsistency. Brett Brown has experimented with bringing Noel off the bench playing two of Covington, Noel or Grant, but it appears with Grant not performing as well when starting he’ll stick with Covington and Noel. The reality is once or perhaps I should say if Joel Embiid ever gets healthy enough to play Noel will likely move to the small forward position or provide a great back-up where he tends to perform better.

On a whole Jones has been another of the consistent performers this season for Houston. At least he brings effort nightly which is more than we can say for his teammates. If he stays focused on Noel, matching his intensity and utilizes his size it should pay dividends. Jones should look to mix up his offense in and out of the paint to force Noel to use more energy.

Slight Edge: Terrence Jones

Center:  Jahlil Okafor vs. Dwight Howard

Odds are Okafor has admired Howard growing up and patterned portions of his game after the big man. In addition his antics caught by TMZ and reported on by Lang Whittaker are likely something he wants to put behind him, so expect him to come out looking to make a statement on the court in an effort to do so.

Conversely, with so much chatter in Clutch City regarding Howard’s lack of offense and relationship issues with Harden he needs to bring out the Superman Howard for this contest and school the youngster. Another loss especially to an 0-16 team will only serve to heat up the rumor mill regarding more changes via trades. The most likely candidate to be at the storm of that discussion will be Howard given his pending free agency and the rumors of the conflict on the team. A great way to decipher how strongly Howard is inclined to remain in Houston will be the effort and production he brings tonight!

Slight Edge: Howard – Superman dons the cape to show the youngster why he got the moniker in the first place and shows him he’ll need to learn to play on both ends of the floor if he wants to reach Howard’s status. (side note: if Howard doesn’t show up for this game it’s safe to say he wants to be traded)

Reserves:

76ers:  Phil Pressey, Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson,

Rockets: Marcus Thornton, Corey BrewerClint Capela,   Ty Lawson, Patrick Beverley,  K.J. McDaniels

The Sixers are hurting with multiple players out and even with them healthy this is a make shift roster. Half the players wouldn’t even be third string bench players for the majority of teams in the Association let alone the D-League. Conversely the Rockets are loaded with depth even though many haven’t lived up to expectations at this point in the season. Let’s hope we get a K.J. McDaniels sighting tonight as this is his former team that Houston traded to snatch him from.

Fired coach Kevin McHale came under scrutiny for not playing McDaniels, but Bickerstaff hasn’t really utilized him to his potential either. In the first game versus Memphis he played a little over 14 minutes and had the best plus/minus on the court of plus +12 (the closest player to him was Jones with a plus +5). Then in the last two games versus New York and Memphis he was a DNP CD (did not play, coaches decision).  It certainly is odd Houston would bring back a player with a strong defensive game to not bother giving him any run especially when Brewer and Thornton have been inconsistent with defense not being their forte.

If Bickerstaff doesn’t play him against his former squad it would be like a slap in the face and I’ll personally wonder why they bothered re-signing him if they didn’t plan on playing him. Morey negotiated a very reasonable contract of 3 years at $10 million dollars which makes him a very tradeable contract especially if the Rockets were to group him with a player they want to get rid of.  In fairness to McDaniels I hope Bickerstaff either starts giving him consistent minutes or Morey trades him, so he can continue his growth. It seems a waste to not use him especially when the area they need the most improvement in is the area he excels in.   Okay, rant over.

Edge: Rockets

Keys To Winning:

  • Shut Sixers down early – don’t let them think they have a shot at winning
  • Full 48 minutes of defensive effort.
  • Control the ball by keeping turnovers down and take advantage of 76ers turn overs. Notably as bad as the Rockets have been at hanging on to the ball the Sixers turn over the ball the most in the Association (18.9 per game).
  • Take advantage of areas where Philly have issues like points in the paint. Philly have proven themselves to not be able to defend the paint, so Houston need to capitalize on this weakness. Other areas Philly suffer are they allow the most opponent points, have the greatest gap in scoring margins and rank low in allowing fast break points.
  • Play like you want to win – Houston has already coughed up enough lack luster performances to fill an entire season and lost to the lowly Brooklyn Nets. Another loss to the one remaining win-less team will only serve to add fodder to the growing rumor mill in Houston.

Prediction:

More from Space City Scoop

It’s almost becoming a running joke with the odds makers as they continue to favor Houston game after game only for the Rockets to not cover the spread and worse lose. Once again they are favorites, this time by a whopping 11 points with an over-under 198.5 points.

If this were a normal season I’d be pointing to Harden’s back to back 35 point efforts or Howard’s double-doubles in each of last seasons games versus the Sixers. Then again the Rockets haven’t done much to warrant our faith this season and barely won one of their games (November 3rd) last year. Given Houston have lost to Denver twice and Brooklyn who were winless at the time, no game is a slam dunk this season (no pun intended). Having said that, if the Rockets lose to the lowly 76ers who limp into town with numerous players injured then they won’t have to worry long about what’s next.

I’ll go along with the odds makers on this one and assume the players are equally frustrated with themselves and their performances to date. Anything less than a win is unacceptable given the talent of both squads.  A loss will guarantee that heads will roll and by that I mean expect a roster shake up (trades) if the Rockets lose this one!

Rockets by 7

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Next: Something Smells Hinkie - 76ers Team Preview

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