Over the course of three trying, losing seasons, there can only be so many different kinds of losses. The 76ers have specialized in many different kinds of losses over the course of three tanking years. This one - the comeback after a turnover-laden game stifled and an ugly crunch-time collapse - was all too familiar early in the season before Ish Smith offered a sense of stability at point guard. With fewer than four minutes remaining, the Sixers trailed by 3. They finished down 14, 118-104, as the Rockets ended the game on a 13-1 run.
The Sixers did everything wrong, again: confusion on which plays are being run; isolation basketball for players not equipped to handle it; turnovers galore; missed rotations; general brainfarts; backbreaking offensive rebounds. It was the Greatest Hits of Sixers Late-Game Collapses.
James Harden scored 29 points, 21 fewer than his last game against whatever we're calling what the Sixers do on defense nowadays. But he did so in taking 26 shots and 13 free throws - on five trips to the line. Holding Harden to 29 points on 31 possessions used gave the Sixers a chance, but too many other Houston players excelled. Dwight Howard scored 21 and grabbed 18 rebounds. Patrick Beverley hit on his first four three point attempts. Trevor Ariza is incapable of not hitting at least four threes against the Sixers.
That helped overcome 12 Sixers threes and a 21-point Ish Smith game, including 17 in the second half.
1. Sometimes it hurts, even when it doesn't make sense. The surprise swap of Isaiah Canaan for K.J. McDaniels at last season's trade deadline hasn't really worked out well for either team. Canaan is a one-trick pony whose weaknesses are regularly exposed on the NBA's worst team, while McDaniels fractured his wrist late last season and has spent most of 2015-16 on the metaphorical Delaware trail.
But both played prominent roles tonight. McDaniels had his best game of the year - his previous most notable showing was a five-foul effort in an attempt to intentionally get the Rockets into the penalty so they could intentionally foul Andre Drummond for the duration of half an entire NBA game - with 12 points powered by six free throws. Canaan hit four threes on his way to 14 points.
2. The Sixers and Rockets play the same sloppy, undisciplined, un-entertaining but statistically sound version of basketball, and they Sixers-ed and Rockets-ed their way to 66 three pointers and 73 free throws. Runs came and went, and players consistently missed rotations and failed to retreat in transition. I'm not sure a cutter faced resistance all night.
Also: the officiating was terrible.
3. Robert Covington was the primary defender on James Harden tonight. When the Rockets weren't able to force switches, Covington did about as well as one could have hoped. He avoided fouling Harden in isolation, unlike everyone else, and forced him into tough one-on-one jumpers. Harden didn't have the jumper working tonight, which helped the Sixers stay in the game.
4. Nerlens Noel had nine rebounds tonight. Only one was on the defensive end. I'm not sure if I like the offensive board totals more than I dislike the lack of defensive rebounds.
(I know the answer is the lack of defensive rebounds - especially when Dwight Howard gets nine offensive rebounds as a result).
5. Jerami Grant is the Sixers' box of chocolates.
6. The Sixers next play on Friday in the battle of circular logos against the Nets, who have unleashed Thomas Robinson's special brand of chaos on the NBA for the second straight year. The Sixers did it better, and also first.