Sixers say they learned their lesson after closing out Rockets

Sixers say they learned their lesson after closing out Rockets


HOUSTON — No, not again. 

The Sixers weren’t going to let the Rockets steal another game down the stretch for the second time in less than a week. 

The lessons learned from last Wednesday’s loss were on the Sixers’ minds as they came to Houston eager to avenge Eric Gordon’s buzzer-beating three. They were ready this time, even when the Rockets threatened a comeback and got within one with three minutes to play. 

“I think we stayed on them a lot more defensively,” Ben Simmons said after the 115-107 win Monday (see observations). “Communication was better. But there were still times when they were just the Rockets, a great team, a great scoring team.”

After the Rockets got within striking distance, 106-105 with 3:06 to go, the Sixers held them scoreless for the next 2:48 during a 7-0 run. The Rockets did not hit a three after Gordon’s bucket with 3:28 remaining. 

“In the fourth quarter, we got stops defensively and the ball was moving,” Joel Embiid said. “Everybody was touching it … T.J. (McConnell) made a couple big shots. I thought we just learned our lesson and we did a better job.”

The Sixers overcame seven turnovers in the fourth, including another late-game 24-second violation. 

“I thought we showed a toughness,” Brett Brown said. “I thought we showed an awareness of a defensive game plan. There’s still areas that we all want, closing out games, the execution of how to walk down a game. I felt our defense did that more than our offense did.”

The Sixers split the season series with the Rockets and picked up their first win in Houston since 2011. 

“That is a team that plays hard,” Ryan Anderson said. “They’ve got a lot of young, hungry players. We knew that was how they were going to play.”

Embiid involved in crunch time
One of the most glaring issues in the Sixers’ loss to the Rockets last week was Embiid’s lack of involvement down the stretch. On Monday, he scored a basket and pulled down three rebounds over the final 2:30 of the win. 

“I thought Jo rebounding was key toward the end,” Simmons said. “We went to Jo a lot in the post and he did what he was supposed to do, be a beast down there.”

Embiid had four points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block overall in the fourth (see highlights). With a total of 22 points, nine rebounds, five dimes and two steals, he became only the third player since the 1983-84 season to post those numbers in 25 minutes or less. Embiid joined Fat Lever (1990) and Pau Gasol (2015). 

Still, he’s wants to do more. 

“I thought I did an OK job,” Embiid said. “I don’t think I’m back to being what I was last year defensively, but I thought this game I made some progress.” 

Simmons feeling comfortable away from rim
Simmons has been producing the majority of his offense in the paint. He changed it up by knocking down three jumpers, 16 and 17 feet from the basket (see video). Simmons had attempted (and missed) only two shots from the 16- to 24-foot range entering the game. 

“I’m comfortable taking them, so I’ve got to start doing that more often,” said Simmons, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists (see highlights). “I just need to get prepared before games, make sure I go through my routine.”

Simmons incorporated jumpers into his pregame drills while working with the Sixers’ shooting coach. Brown isn’t forcing the issue, but is noticing more confidence from the rookie with those shots.

“It’s just a whole other situation that a team has to figure out. How do we game plan that?” Brown said. “I think it’s going to happen sooner than others think. If he can reliably rise up and hit some 15-, 17-foot jump shots, it just makes the other parts of his game more explosive and he becomes more complete.” 

Brown staying optimistic about Fultz
Brown reiterated his positive outlook on Markelle Fultz now that the rookie has been ruled out indefinitely with right shoulder scapular muscle imbalance.

Brown, who is well-versed in rookie injuries, is looking to “reload him, re-deliver him to an NBA court where he feels good, he’s ready to go play and be Markelle Fultz again.”

“Right now, we all saw that wasn’t the case,” Brown said. “In a very sort of twisted way, I’m viewing this as a positive opportunity.”

Notes and tidbits
• The Sixers’ bench combined for 40 points between Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (17), Amir Johnson (12) and McConnell (11). Brown called the trio “excellent” and said those players were necessary to beat one of the league’s top teams (see video).

• James Harden described the Rockets’ energy as “terrible” at the start of the game. They were not aggressive on the defensive end as the Sixers scored 37 points in the first quarter alone.

• The Sixers had a 13-rebound edge on the glass. They are the only team to out-rebound the Rockets this season, and also did so in their last matchup. Johnson led the way with 10 boards while every starter grabbed at least five. 

Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

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Rockets extend streak as Butler exits with injury

HOUSTON -- James Harden scored 31 points and the Houston Rockets won their 11th straight game with a 120-102 victory Friday night over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who lost All-Star Jimmy Butler to an apparent right knee injury.

Butler left the game late in the third quarter. After grabbing a rebound late in the third quarter, he pivoted and planted hard on his right foot before collapsing and grabbing his right knee. He was on the floor for at least three minutes before he was carried off the court by two teammates. He appeared to avoid putting weight on his right leg when heading to the locker room.

A Timberwolves official said during the fourth quarter that Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau would provide an update on Butler's injury following the game.

Clint Capela had 25 points and 11 rebounds for Houston, getting his 10th double-double over the past 13 games. Chris Paul added 14 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Rockets trailed for much of the first half before going ahead to maintain the NBA's best record.

Andrew Wiggins led Minnesota with 21 points, and Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns both had 18 points. Towns added 13 rebounds (see full recap).

Davis sensational in Pelicans’ OT victory over Heat
NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis had 45 points, 17 rebounds, five blocked shots and five steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Miami Heat 124-123 in overtime Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Goran Dragic scored 30 points and Dwyane Wade hit two runners to give the Heat the lead twice in the last 36 seconds of overtime, but Davis responded to the first with a layup as he was fouled, and Jrue Holiday answered the second with a runner in the lane with 7 seconds left.

Wade had one last shot for the win with Holiday defending him closely. It bounced off the rim to Josh Richardson, whose rushed put-back missed the basket as time expired in Miami's third straight loss.

Davis, who has scored no fewer than 38 points in a game during New Orleans' winning streak -- and 42 or more three times -- raised both arms in triumph as he looked up at the jubilant crowd, and then exchanged high fives with fans along the court.

Holiday finished with 29 points and nine assists, connecting with Davis on a couple of alley-oop dunks. Ian Clark scored a season-high 21 points and Nikola Mirotic capped his 10-point, nine-rebound performance with a crucial 3 in overtime.

Hassan Whiteside had 19 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime when he hacked Davis on a put-back attempt. Davis hit both free throws to tie it at 117, and then gave New Orleans a brief lead with his fifth alley-oop dunk of the game on a fast-break lob from Holiday with 1:10 to go. Wade had 16 points, while Richardson and Tyler Johnson each scored 15 points (see full recap).

Balanced Celtics rout Pistons
DETROIT -- Kyrie Irving scored 18 points and rookie Daniel Theis added a career-high 19 to lift the Boston Celtics to a 110-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

Jayson Tatum scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half for the Celtics, who went into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak but returned with a solid win on the road. Boston took control by outscoring the Pistons 38-21 in the second quarter.

Blake Griffin scored 17 points for Detroit but shot just 5 of 19 from the field.

Theis eclipsed his previous career high of 12 points. He played an important role after Aron Baynes, the starting center for the Celtics, went to the locker room in the first half with left elbow soreness. Baynes ended up playing only 2:39, but Theis shot 8 of 10 from the field and had seven rebounds.

Ish Smith made his first eight shots and finished with 20 points for the Pistons. Detroit led 39-37 in the second quarter before a 21-5 run by Boston. The Celtics were ahead 61-49 at halftime.

The lead was only four late in the third before Boston scored seven straight points -- five by Irving. The Celtics broke the game open at the start of the fourth (see full recap).

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

The Sixers have been rising steadily in the standings and players around the league are taking notice. 

The young squad improved to 31-25 with a victory over the Bulls Thursday. They have won six straight and have not lost at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. That totals up to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Wizards for the fourth spot and two games ahead of the Heat for the eighth. 

"I like them," Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler said at the All-Star break. "They've got a lot of great young talent. We do as well. But I think the way that they're going and how they play so hard and play so together, that's how you win basketball games. They're going to be really, really good for a long time."

The Sixers turned heads with a statement win over the Rockets in only their seventh game of the season. From there, they have defeated playoff teams, including a rare sweep of the Spurs, while struggling against sub.-500 opponents. 

They have 26 games remaining to make a postseason push. Of their upcoming opponents, only 10 games are against current top-eight teams in their conferences. Brett Brown has emphasized they can't take any team lightly. This is the time for the Sixers to maximize their schedule and show they learned from previous letdowns.

"They look good," Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "Obviously as a young team, it takes time to learn how to win. ... The mature, really high-level teams, they find a way to get it done. I think for them, that's what their record shows. You play against them and it's hard to play against them. 

"They're really talented, they play hard, they play for a great coach. It's just those nights where you might not have it, having that understanding and that experience that'll lead you to more wins. I think once they get to that point, that's when maybe nine or 10 games that they've let slip, maybe they win those games."

The Sixers wrapped up the majority of their Western Conference schedule prior to the All-Star break. They have only the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks left to play. Those in the conference still are keeping an eye on the Sixers' progress, even if they may not face off again for months. 

"Everyone definitely sees the talent there," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Any time you've got Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid to build around, they've got a very bright future. I think everyone had very high expectations, but it's hard to have high expectations with a team that's got a lot of first-, second-year guys that have never been in the playoffs. 

"But you can tell that they're going to be in the playoffs for, shoot, the next decade or so, probably be upper echelon pretty soon."