The last time the Sixers had a game flexed onto national TV was in February of 2012, when they jumped out to a 20-10 record early in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. This time around Philadelphia is 10 games away from .500 in the opposite direction, but despite their 17-27 record the Sixers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Winners of 10 of their last 13 games since T.J. “Literally Jason Kidd” McConnell was inserted into the starting lineup, the Sixers have a chance to notch perhaps their biggest statement win since the 2012 Playoffs with a victory over 34-15 Rockets on TNT.
After missing the Sixers’ last three games with a left knee contusion, Joel Embiid is listed as questionable for the game. But Sixers fans concerned that the recent All-Star snub may not take the floor against Houston shouldn’t fret too much. JoJo has been listed as questionable four times this season – twice due to illness, once due to an ankle sprain, and another time with a different contusion on his left knee, and on each occasion he suited up and played his regular allotment of minutes. Just take a look at video of Embiid from this morning’s shoot-around (via Jessica Camerato of CSN Philly), which he participated in fully. It certainly looks like he’s ready to play tonight…
Embiid with the dunk after a three pic.twitter.com/jtvpy9sseZ— Jessica Camerato (@JCameratoCSN) January 27, 2017
Jahlil Okafor is available to play, as well, after missing two games with knee soreness. But if Embiid suits up, expect Jah to go back to getting DNP-CD’d. Nerlens Noel, who is coming off his two best games of the season, should get the 20 or so remaining minutes at the center position.
The Rockets, currently seeded third in the Western Conference, come into town as losers of two straight games for just the second time this season. It’s been a weird stretch for Houston, with them dropping six of their last nine after winning nine in a row after Christmas Day. In the midst of a five-game road swing that ends Sunday in Indiana, Mike D’Antoni’s squad will look to rebound and avoid falling completely out of striking distance of the division-rival Spurs, who hold the #2 seed in the West at 36-9.
Under D’Antoni’s frenetic direction, the Rockets’ offense has reached new heights this year. Playing at the fourth-fastest pace in the league and jacking up more threes per game than any team in NBA history – 39.7 per game, Houston is having its best offensive season in franchise history, scoring 114.9 points per 100 possessions (#2 in the NBA behind Golden State). Much of that success can be attributed to MVP hopeful James Harden, whose 28.6 points, 11.6 assists, and 8.2 rebounds per game put him in Oscar Robertson territory, along with Russell Westbrook.
The Rockets, though, will likely be without their #2 option on offense, Eric Gordon. The oft-injured two-guard has had a resurgent season with Houston, sitting second in the NBA in threes made behind Steph Curry while converting at a 39.2% clip. With him out of the lineup due to back tightness, look for D’Antoni to lean more heavily upon reserves Sam Dekker and Corey Brewer.
In the frontcourt, the Rockets recently got stalwart defender Clint Capela back after 15 games missed due to a knee injury. Expect Houston to try to maximize the amount of time he and Embiid are on the floor together. Nene and Montrezl Harrell should pick up the remainder of the minutes at center. Tonight’s game will also give us a chance to see Ryan Anderson go head to head with his hastily made Turkish clone, Ersan Ilyasova.
If the Sixers can win this game, the narrative not just in this city but around the country will dramatically shift. Let’s raise those damn cats tonight.