Mar 30, 2011, 6:29 PM EDT
Not unlike our own 76ers, the Rockets got off to a rocky start this
season. Yao Ming went all of five games before calling it a season
(injury, natch), and Houston stumbled out to a 5-12 record. Even when
they last met the Liberty Ballers on February 16, the Rockets were
sitting four games below .500, their playoff chances looking remote.
As the saying goes, they’ve looked like a different team since then.
Since falling to the Sixers 114-105, Houston has been playing basketball
at a .765 clip, winning 13 of their last 17. Their four losses in that
span have been by an average of five points. And don’t look now, but the
Rockets are creeping back into the playoff picture, a mere two games
out of the eight seed in the West, with the rest of the field visible in
their rear view mirror.
This is a dangerous, desperate team to welcome into your building as the calendar turns to April.
In their last go-round with the Sixers, Houston was guided by a
somewhat unlikely scoring duo. Villanova product Kyle Lowry, averaging
13.5 points per game for his career, unloaded a career high 36 on the
Sixers. Lowry was six of nine from beyond the arc, his only three misses
en route to a 15 for 18 shooting night from the field. Simply put, that
can’t happen again.
Luis Scola, the club’s second leading scorer this season at 18.3 per, dropped 26. Only one other player reached double digits.
Despite their inability to contain two guys who accounted for over
50% of the Rockets’ scoring, the Sixers won the game on the strength of a
total team effort, as we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Andre Iguodala
had a tough night shooting the rock, going 20% from the field, but had
12 rebounds and 10 assists to go with his 13 for a triple-double. Jrue
Holiday added 20, while Elton Brand went 10-11 for a double-double.
Yet the stars of the game started the night on the bench. Lou
Williams and Thad Young each scored 19, part of seven total Sixers in
Oddly enough, it’s Spencer Hawes who may be one of the keys tonight.
The big guy scored a bunch of clutch baskets before fouling out in
Monday night’s impressive win over the Bulls, and he had one of his best
nights of the season against the Rockets, going for 17 and 11. Brad
Miller and Jordan Hill, Houston’s top big men in lieu of Yao, leave a
lot to be desired—on both ends of the floor.
With only eight games remaining, the Sixers appear to be locking into
the sixth seed. The Hawks continue to hold a comfortable four game
advantage, and barring a Philly collapse or New York surge, Doug
Collins’ crew shouldn’t be overly concerned with sliding any further.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be a sense of urgency on the court
tonight. A streaking team like the Rockets are a good test for the young
Sixers, whose play has been a little up and down of late. If they
intend to compete in and perhaps win a playoff series or two, they’re
going to need to be able to beat quality teams back-to-back at some
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