Rockets, 76ers finish restart without key players
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Philadelphia 76ers at Houston Rockets
- The Rockets beat Philadelphia, 118-108, in January in the first meeting between the teams this season. The Rockets are 10-2 against the 76ers since 2014 with six of those wins coming by double figures, including the last two.
- The Sixers have lost three straight games after opening 3-1 in the Orlando bubble. This will be the third straight season the Sixers (42-30) will finish at least 10 games over .500 after not finishing more than four games over .500 from 2003-04 to 2016-17 (14 seasons).
- Houston (44-27, .620) is set to finish with a .600 winning percentage for the fourth straight season, and the sixth time in the last seven. Now that the Spurs have been eliminated from playoff contention, Houston has the longest active postseason streak in the NBA (8 consecutive seasons).
- The 76ers are 9-10 in the 19 games Ben Simmons has missed since his debut in 2017, compared to 136-81 (.627) with him. Philadelphia is 0-5 without Simmons in games against teams who were .500 or better at the time of the meeting.
- James Harden (34.4 PPG) will secure his third straight scoring title, after averaging 36.1 points per game last season and 30.4 points per game the year before. Harden is the first player to average at least 30 points per game in three straight seasons since Michael Jordan (7 straight) from 1986-87 to 1992-93.
- Philadelphia's three-pointers come almost exclusively off passes, with a league-high 91.7 percent of their three pointers this season being assisted, while Houston has assisted on just 68.9 percent of their threes, only Portland (.669) has assisted on a lower percentage of their threes. The injured Ben Simmons, however, assisted on 226 of Philadelphia's threes, only Luka Doncic (244) and LeBron James (234) have assisted on more this season.
All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook will not only miss the Houston Rockets' final seeding game on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Westbrook will also be unavailable for the start of the Rockets' playoff series against his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to published reports.
Westbrook logged 27 minutes in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, but an MRI exam the following day revealed a quad strain that could potentially sideline him into next week. Westbrook has been ruled out against the 76ers (42-30) in the regular-season finale for both teams in the NBA bubble near Orlando.
The Rockets (44-27) are 8-6 without Westbrook in the starting lineup this season. Houston acquired Westbrook last offseason in part because their former point guard, 10-time All-Star Chris Paul, had a protracted playoff injury history that included a hamstring strain that sidelined Paul for the final two games of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, a series Houston led 3-2 before losing to the Golden State Warriors.
Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said Thursday that Westbrook will be re-evaluated this weekend in advance of the series with the Thunder, which opens Tuesday. Houston has dropped consecutive games following a 4-1 start at the bubble, with its postseason seeding essentially locked in.
"The last two, three games really, in reality, we weren't fighting for anything," D'Antoni said. "We're locked into fourth or fifth which makes no difference so we didn't have the energy that we've had. We're trying to rest guys; Friday will be the same thing. It's more just who needs the work, who needs the rest, reduced minutes if any minutes at all. That's where we are right now."
The Rockets welcomed back guard Eric Gordon in their 108-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. Gordon had been sidelined with an ankle sprain suffered in the final scrimmage in the bubble, and with Westbrook injured, Gordon will play an even more critical role for Houston.
"He didn't look real good but that's normal," D'Antoni said of Gordon, who missed 8 of 9 3-pointers and committed six turnovers over 20 minutes against the Pacers. "We knew that. That's why it was good he played (Wednesday) and he'll play some Friday and then have a couple practices and hopefully get back in rhythm."
Houston has spent the majority of this unusual season attempting to set a regular rotation. But injuries to Gordon and Westbrook, combined with a midseason shift to a small-ball lineup, has undermined that goal. Now, once again, Houston must prepare for an unexpected circumstance.
"We have a good enough team that we should be able to beat a team without someone," Gordon said. "Of course we're going to need Russ, but we've got to be able to be a good enough team to make adjustments and win."
The 76ers are peering into a void of their own with guard Ben Simmons lost for the season following knee surgery. With their playoff opponent set -- Philadelphia will face the Boston Celtics in a first-round Eastern Conference series starting Monday -- the 76ers are likely to rest or limit the minutes of several key contributors Friday. Both Joel Embiid (ankle, hand) and Glenn Robinson III (hip) are listed as questionable.
Philadelphia has labored developing continuity and is pinning its hopes against the Celtics on the chemistry fostered during the league restart in the bubble. Without Simmons, that cohesion will be tested.
"We truly understand that when playoffs come, with our team and our depth, that (chemistry is) going to be needed throughout our run," 76ers forward Tobias Harris said.
It has been a tough week for Embiid. He departed Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers with an ankle injury that forced him to miss Tuesday's contest against the Phoenix Suns.
He returned on Wednesday and lasted just 14 minutes against the Toronto Raptors before injuring his right hand. X-rays were negative.
"I do know it was whacked twice," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said of Embiid's hand injury. "As it relates to what's next, or the evaluation of it, I am sorry, I can't comment on that."
--Field Level Media
Updated August 13, 2020