After cruising to a 119-100 win against the Spurs on Friday, the Sixers have now won six straight. This recent stretch has lifted Philly to fifth place in the East with a 22-16 record, and they should have a great opportunity to extend their win streak to seven on Monday night against the 11-30 Houston Rockets.
The Sixers still won’t be quite at full strength to begin this week. Tyrese Maxey and Paul Reed remain out in COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Shake Milton (back contusion), Jaden Springer (non-COVID illness) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons) are all still out as well.
The notable absence for the Rockets is rookie Alperen Şengün, who’s currently out with a right ankle sprain. He’s had plenty of impressive moments this season with his creative footwork, finishing and passing, and looks like an important part of Houston’s rebuild.
To put the Rockets at even more of a disadvantage, they’ll also be on the second night of a back-to-back, after losing 141-123 to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
It’s been a rough season for the Rockets and new head coach Stephen Silas. They went on a random seven-game win streak over late November/early December, but their results have yet again gone downhill since then. They’ve now lost 10 of their last 11 games, including when the Sixers blew them out for a 133-113 victory on Jan. 3 after pulling away in the second half.
The Rockets now having the third-worst record in the league, 26th-ranked offense and the 30th-ranked defense just about sums it up. Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. were even suspended for the Jan. 3 game against the Sixers as a disciplinary measure for their behaviour two days earlier against the Nuggets. Porter left the arena at half time following an argument with assistant coach John Lucas, while Wood refused to check in during the second half.
Wood’s presence on Monday will give Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond more of a challenge, though. Wood is averaging 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for the season, and with his athetlic rim rolling, finishing ability, and comfort from deep (even though his three-point shooting has dropped a little to 34.5 percent on 4.7 attempts per game this season), he’s one of the league’s most versatile scoring bigs. Prompt recoveries to the rim in pick-and-rolls and stepping up to the three-point line on pick-and-pops will be key in limiting the Rockets’ top scorer.
With Sengun out, the other main young talent to keep an eye on is rookie Jalen Green. While there have been plenty of exciting flashes with his high-volume shot-making and incredible athleticism flying to the rim, his efficiency has been low across the board, resulting in a true shooting percentage of just 53.3. For a 19-year-old rookie playing on one of the worst teams in the league, though, those kinds of struggles are more than understandable. He’s also settled into a better stretch of play recently. In seven games before a 3-of-10 shooting night against Minnesota at the weekend, Green averaged 19.3 points with 45.1/44.7/84.2 shooting splits. Matisse Thybulle’s return will be helpful again in this game in handling Green’s explosiveness off the bounce — the rookie is taking 51.1 percent of his shots from deep, but attempts within three feet of the basket also account for a solid chunk of his shot profile at 26.7 percent.
As is the case for most teams, the Rockets don’t have an answer for Embiid. The Sixers’ leader has dominated since returning from COVID-19 health and safety protocols and has now scored at least 30 points in each of the last six games. Embiid alone should be enough to swing this game if he keeps rolling. Daniel Theis and Wood simply don’t have the strength, size, or shot-blocking chops to contain Embiid’s bullying face-up and post-up play.
Tobias Harris has also started heating up, recording at least 22 points in each of the last two games (including 23 on 9-of-12 shooting against the Spurs). Going against the league’s worst defense (that also allows the fourth-highest field goal percentage in the restricted area) on Monday should give him another chance to keep getting downhill and find his rhythm after quite a few disappointing performances in recent weeks.
We’ve seen the Sixers play down to inferior and shorthanded opponents this season, but they shouldn’t be losing to a Rockets team that’s this bad and playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
When: 8:00 pm ET, January 10, 2022
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic