The Philadelphia 76ers won their final three games of 2021, and they’ll look to keep the good vibes going into 2022 as they play host to the Houston Rockets. For a change, the Sixers are not the most dramatic team on the court, after the Rockets had a locker room blow-up on Saturday. Assistant coach John Lucas called out Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood’s effort level during halftime. Taking offense, Porter Jr. left the arena, and Wood refused to go into the game in the second half. Unsurprisingly, Houston lost to Denver, 124-111, falling to a Western Conference-worst 10-27 on the season.
It should be said that Porter Jr., in particular, has a history of acting out. Before Cleveland traded him to Houston, he reportedly threw a tantrum and food over his locker being moved. But the situation has raised a familiar question for Sixers fans: does blatant tanking hurt player development for the guys forced to trudge through 82 games of (mostly) losing? The Rockets are paying John Wall to sit at home, which Rich Paul incorrectly said was the same as the Sixers wanting to pay Ben Simmons to play. They have seven guys on their roster 21 years of age or younger, and Eric Gordon and Daniel Theis are the only older vets normally part of the rotation. Having gone through The Process, I’m certainly not Team Tanking is Wrong, but I am receptive to the notion that it could be rough on these young players. That being said, there’s no excuse for KPJ and Wood acting completely unprofessional; these are still men in their twenties, not teenagers.
With Houston now heading to Philly, the stars are aligning for the Sixers to win their fourth straight game. Philadelphia is getting healthier coming out of their latest COVID wave to hit the team. Danny Green was just cleared of health and safety protocols, and while Matisse Thybulle is now listed as questionable due to protocols, no other regulars are on the list. For Houston, Eric Gordon is questionable with hamstring tightness and Alperen Sengun is out with an ankle injury. We haven’t heard word on Porter Jr. or Wood’s status for tonight, as of this writing, but one would think there would be some sort of disciplinary action, and those are two of Houston’s most talented players.
Plus, the Sixers are fresh off arguably their best win of the season. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant and James Harden in Brooklyn Thursday, and came out on top. I wrote yesterday about how their best game together as a duo might be a good sign of things to come. Facing a beleaguered Rockets team next is definitely a terrific stepping stone to build upon Thursday’s performance.
After tonight’s game versus Houston, the Sixers then face Orlando on the road, and San Antonio back at home. They have a wonderful opportunity to get things rolling in this new year and create some separation in the standings from the play-in group. Entering tonight, Philadelphia is 19-16 and sixth place in the East. Don’t trip over their own feet, and the Sixers should continue to rise over the next week.