By Sean Kennedy
Last chance. If the Sixers don’t pull off an upset victory in Houston, they’ll tie the post-LeBron Cavaliers for the longest losing streak in NBA history at 26 straight games. It hasn’t been a lack of pride or heart; the team has been giving everything it has in recent weeks, nearly pulling off a victory on a number of occasions. However, just like you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight (unless you’re a truly exceptional knife-thrower), you can’t bring a bunch of D-leaguers to an NBA game and expect to come out on top. Pretty sure Sam Hinkie knew this going in to the season.
The Rockets have won four straight games, and combined with Portland’s free-fall in recent weeks without a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge, look to have locked up home-court advantage in the first-round of the stacked Western Conference playoffs. One possible silver lining for the Sixers is the uncertain status of Dwight Howard. The big man missed a few games with an ankle injury but returned to action Monday and was considered all systems go moving forward. Then, he banged knees and missed most of the team’s practice Wednesday, and he’s currently a game-time decision. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, even if Howard doesn’t play, Houston has a more-than-capable back-up in Omer Asik. Asik is at least comparable defensively to Howard, and though he doesn’t have the offensive game of faux-Superman, Asik sets killer screens to spring James Harden and the rest of the Rockets in their pick-and-roll game.
The second-straight game in Texas continues the Sixers management reunion tour following coach Brett Brown’s return to San Antonio. This time, Sam Hinkie returns to his old stomping grounds where he served under Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Hinkie’s ideas about pushing the pace and maximizing shots both either at the rim or outside the three-point arc have been fully fleshed out with the current iteration of the Rockets. Houston leads the NBA in three-point attempts per game but unlike the Sixers, have guys actually capable of hitting the outside shot. Chandler Parsons, Harden, and Patrick Beverley all chuck a high-volume of long-range bombs at a rate at or slightly above the league-average. When Howard is in there dominating on the low block, opposing defenses have the difficult decision to live with him scoring down there or try and double and get burned on the outside. It’s no surprise that Houston has the 4th-most efficient offense in the NBA.
The Rockets are a potential working model for what the Sixers could be down the road. They stockpiled assets to pull off a trade for a superstar (Harden), making the team a more attractive landing spot for another big-name free agent (Howard). If the Sixers don’t hit on the franchise-altering guy in the draft, this will have to be the route Hinkie goes with down the line. Still, those days are still a ways down the road and right now, we’re throwing out a roster full of mostly D-league guys against one of the ascendant teams in the league. As much as I hate to say it, they can probably use pen to mark the Sixers down in the record books.