For those of us fortunate enough to be off work or otherwise available on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we will be treated to afternoon basketball as the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Houston Rockets at 1:00pm. There’s good news and bad news on the injury report for the Sixers. Joel Embiid and Kelly Oubre Jr. both returned to practice yesterday, with Embiid upgraded to questionable. His return would be timely, not only because he’s the reigning league MVP and that’s always nice to have, but because Mo Bamba is now doubtful and we could be looking at Marcus Morris at the five or Kenneth Lofton Jr. minutes if Joel can’t go.
The other bad news aside from Bamba is De’Anthony Melton being out once again with his back soreness. He returned to the lineup for Friday’s win, but was walking gingerly after the game. This issue looks to be lingering and backs are tricky, so you have to at least be a little worried about a key member of the rotation.
While Joel coming back would be terrific (provided the knee is actually healthy enough to allow him to play and they’re not unnecessarily pushing things), the team encouragingly played their best non-Embiid game on Friday. Tobias Harris dropped a season-high 37 points and outside of a dreadful game against the Knicks, has been very good over the last nine-game stretch. Hopefully, the cold spell of late-November, early-December is completely behind him. Paul Reed and Mo Bamba both played one of their better games of the season against Sacramento. Although Bamba is likely out, Reed stringing another strong performance together would be great to see; he has not played to expectations thus far this season.
As for today’s opponent, the Rockets achieved their goal when they threw a bunch of money this offseason at Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, and Jeff Green. They are firmly back to mediocrity after four straight seasons at 22 or fewer wins, currently 19-19 on the season and holding the final Play-In Tournament spot. It’s wild to think Houston could have their most wins in a season in five years by the end of January.
While some disagreed with the ‘bridge veterans’ approach, this isn’t a treadmill of mediocrity situations with plenty of young guys contributing. Alperen Sengun, Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason (out today), Cam Whitmore, and Amen Thompson are all playing real minutes. Eason is the oldest of that group at 22 years old, with everyone else 21 and younger. In particular, Sengun, the 2021 16th overall pick out of Turkey, has been a revelation, leading the team in scoring at 21.7 points per game, with other averages of 8.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. People like to make the Nikola Jokic comparison because they’re both foreign centers with passing chops, and while you hate to compare anyone to arguably the best player in the sport, these were the kind of numbers Jokic was putting up at a similar age before his true breakout. Sengun has the makings of a perennial All-Star.
The Sixers should have their hands full tonight, especially if Embiid isn’t able to go. Either way, these aren’t the Rockets of the last few years and they’ll need their A game to get a new winning streak underway and keep pace with Milwaukee towards the top of the Eastern Conference.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Houston Rockets
When: 1:00 pm EST
Where: The Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic