The Philadelphia 76ers’ last two games have been closer contests than they should have been, but the Sixers have still won five straight to move back to the top of the East. With a favorable schedule to close the regular season, they have an excellent opportunity to maintain the No. 1 seed.
For Wednesday’s game, the Sixers will be facing an opponent from the opposite end of the spectrum. They’ll be taking on the 16-49 Houston Rockets, who are sitting firmly in 15th place in the Western Conference after winning just three of their last 20 games.
The only player on the injury report for the Sixers is Furkan Korkmaz, who’s out with a right ankle sprain. The Rockets, on the other hand, are going to be heavily depleted. Sterling Brown (left knee soreness), Eric Gordon (right groin strain), David Nwaba (right wrist sprain), D.J. Wilson (health and safety protocols) and John Wall (right hamstring strain) are all out, while D.J. Augustin (left ankle sprain) is questionable and Danuel House Jr. (right ankle soreness) is doubtful.
From James Harden’s departure, to injuries and countless on-court struggles, the Rockets’ season has been rough. They rank 27th in both offensive and defensive rating, and seeing as the Sixers are pretty much at full strength, they’ll have far more firepower and an elite defense to comfortably outmatch Houston. The Rockets are purely focused on their young players and the future at this point.
There have been a few bright spots for the Rockets, though. Rookie Jae’Sean Tate has shown a lot of promise, especially on defense — he’ll be Houston’s main weapon on the perimeter to compete with the Sixers’ ball-handlers. Kevin Porter Jr. has proven himself to be a brilliant acquisition after the Rockets picked him up for just a single second-round pick in January. He’s been showcasing his scoring off the dribble, creative footwork and driving ability, and has averaged 17.3 points over his last 18 games (which included a 50-point, 11-assist explosion in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks last week).
Christian Wood has had a strong season in his first year as a Rocket, averaging 21 points and 9.6 rebounds per game with a 59.1 true shooting percentage. The Sixers’ defense can’t sleep against Wood’s diverse scoring talent, as he’s a dynamic rim roller/finisher and effective pick-and-pop threat (shooting 37.4 percent from three on 5 attempts per game). Kelly Olynyk has also been playing extremely well since arriving in Houston at the trade deadline. He’s shown off everything he can do in a much larger offensive role, from sharp playmaking to increased post-up play and more of his trusty fake dribble hand-offs. After averaging 18.2 points (with a stellar 69.1 true shooting percentage), 8.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in his first 21 games in Houston, Olynyk is well on his way to earning a large contract in free agency this summer. Similarly to Wood, the Sixers will need to be switched on against Olynyk’s confident three-point shooting, particularly whenever the Rockets use him at center.
If the Sixers put together a remotely solid effort, though, they shouldn’t have much trouble winning this game. From the Rockets’ point of view, maybe Porter Jr., Wood and Olynyk can keep doing enough offensively to add some extra entertainment value.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Houston Rockets
When: 8:00 pm ET, May 5th
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic