Will Sixers-Rockets live up to last year's standard?

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Will Sixers-Rockets live up to last year's standard?

Sixers (1-3) vs. Rockets (3-1)
7 p.m. on NBCSP, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.

All it took was a historic accomplishment from a rookie and 30 points from their center for the Sixers to crack into the win column Monday with a 97-86 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

Now the Sixers will look for their first home win of the new season when they host James Harden and the lethal Houston Rockets.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

• If for some reason you were struggling to understand the hype around Ben Simmons, mark down Monday’s performance as exhibit A. 

Simmons controlled the action with 21 points (8 for 11 shooting), 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He became just the third rookie in NBA history to record a triple-double within his first four games (Oscar Robertson and Art “Hambone” Williams).

Simmons continues to validate Brett Brown’s decision to make him the team’s point guard, which is having some trickle-down effect around the league. Look no further than LeBron James starting at PG for the first time since 2005 in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ comeback win Tuesday over the Chicago Bulls.

“It's the first of many for him,” James said to ESPN of Simmons’ feat. “He's a triple threat, ability to score in transition, rebound and pass the ball. His passing is his best quality and high basketball IQ. So, it's the first of many triple-doubles for the young guy.”

• While one rookie is shining on the court, the Sixers’ other No. 1 overall pick is going on the shelf.

Markelle Fultz’s shoulder injury will keep him out at least the next three games (see story). He will be reevaluated next Tuesday.

Fultz's injury saga took a new turn just a day ago when his agent, Raymond Brothers, initially ESPN reported the rookie had fluid drained from his shoulder to only revise his statement and say it was a cortisone injection.

Either way, Brothers painted a grim picture of Fultz’s overall health.

“He literally cannot raise up his arms to shoot the basketball,” Brothers said. “He decided to try and fight through the pain to help the team. He has a great attitude. We are committed to finding a solution to get Markelle back to 100 percent.”

Whether Brothers is exaggerating or not, it is clear Fultz is experiencing discomfort. The shoulder has limited his ability and in turn his production. Fultz has averaged just 6.0 points on 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 50.0 percent from the free throw line.

Clearly, this situation has been mishandled, but get the issue rectified now and Fultz back to looking like the guy everyone remembers from that lone season at Washington.

• While Fultz is certainly a competitor, we’re sure he won’t miss having to figure out how to help contain one of the NBA’s most dangerous scorers in James Harden.

Harden is finding his footing to start the new season, but he has still managed to put up 26.3 points a night.

With superstar point guard Chris Paul banged up, Harden has taken on even more of the offensive duties. Through four games, he is averaging a career-high 20.8 field goal attempts. That includes a whopping 11.0 tries from three-point range per game.

Harden will definitely get his buckets. The key for the Sixers is to make sure it doesn’t get out of control like the last time “The Beard” came to Philadelphia.

Last season on Jan. 27, Harden torched the Sixers in a historic performance with 51 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in a 123-118 Rockets’ win. He became the first player in league history with multiple 50-point triple-doubles in a single season.

• Sixers fans will remember that game as the last time they saw Joel Embiid on the floor in 2016-17 before the big man was shut down for the season with a knee injury.

But let’s not focus on the past (even though Embiid was dominant with 32 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in that one).

Instead, let’s look at what the center has done so far in 2017-18 with just one day in between games.

Embiid made his preseason debut with 22 points and seven boards in 15 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets. He followed that up two days later with a five-point, seven-rebound effort vs. Hassan Whiteside and the Miami Heat in the preseason finale.

Embiid looked solid in the regular-season opener with 18 points and 13 rebounds against the Washington Wizards. Then he turned in an 11-point performance on 4 of 16 shooting (0 for 6 from three-point range) a couple days later in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Now “The Process” is coming off a stellar effort of 30 points (11 for 15) and nine rebounds in Monday’s victory over the Pistons. Will he continue to build on that game or look lethargic again with a day between matchups?

• Former Sixers associate head coach Mike D’Antoni returns to Philadelphia with a 64-33 record (including playoffs) since taking over the Rockets. D’Antoni was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year a season ago.

• Fultz (shoulder) and Richaun Holmes (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Paul (knee), Trevor Ariza (foot) and Nene (Achilles) are out for the Rockets.

Sixers swingman Justin Anderson out with shin splints

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Sixers swingman Justin Anderson out with shin splints

The Sixers’ line to the doctor’s office is getting longer by the day.

The team announced on Friday that Justin Anderson is out with shin splints in his left leg. He will be reevaluated in approximately three weeks.

Anderson joins guards Markelle Fultz (shoulder), Jerryd Bayless (wrist) and Nik Stauskas (ankle) on the injury report.

In 10 games this season, Anderson has averaged 5.0 points (37.5 percent shooting from the field, 34.6 percent shooting from three-point range) and 2.7 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game.

With Anderson on the shelf, expect Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to see an uptick in minutes. The French swingman has averaged 16.0 minutes a night so far this season with 6.8 points (38.4 percent from the field, 35.6 percent from three-point range) and 1.2 rebounds.

While there’s never a good time for ailments, the rash of injuries to the Sixers’ perimeter players couldn’t have come at a worse time. The team faces the best backcourt in the NBA again in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson when it opens a six-game homestand against the champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday (7:30 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia).

Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

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Imagine how good Sixers can be once this trio gets rolling

As we collectively bask in the glow of the Southern California smackdown the Sixers administered to the Clippers and the Lakers to close out their road trip at 3-2, let’s take a little inventory of just what they’ve accomplished overall this season.

Through 14 games, they are 8-6. That’s two wins shy of their total amount of victories just two seasons ago and we’re still in November. The times they have a changed in Sixer-land.

The team has not one, but two, transcendent stars who are capable of taking over games.

Joel Embiid’s last two performances have been pure dominance. Seventy-eight points, 31 rebounds, eight blocks and nine assists, while shooting 25 of 40 from the floor and averaging 35 minutes. He’s made whomever is guarding him look foolish, including one of the better defenders in the game, DeAndre Jordan.

From Game 1, Ben Simmons has looked like a 10-year veteran. His poise belies his years. Simmons is a double-double machine and a triple-double threat every night. He’s posting gaudy early numbers of 17.8 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 7.7 assists. Despite not being a threat beyond 12 feet, Simmons' ability to get to the rack and finish with either hand more than compensates for his outside shortcomings. That duo has been awesome.

Not to be overlooked is Robert Covington. The 26-year-old, who transformed himself into a top-10 defender in the league, is putting up monster offensive stats after an inconsistent season from the floor last year. Covington is scoring 16.5 points, while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and nearly 50 percent from three-point land (49.5). Couple that offensive production with his defensive prowess and the Sixers got a pretty good bargain for a reported four years, $62 million.  

But what’s even more remarkable when considering the Sixers' good start is who they are doing it without. First overall draft pick Markelle Fultz has played in just four games this season as he continues to battle a shoulder issue. Compare that to the contribution the NBA’s best team thus far, the Celtics, have gotten from third overall pick, Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old is scoring 13.9 points per game and pulling down 5.6 rebounds, while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from three. He’s been an integral piece in their 14-game winning streak. The Sixers have not had that luxury.

Beyond Fultz, Dario Saric has not been able to find a rhythm all season. Saric averaged 15.8 points per game over the final three months of last season. He hasn’t rebounded or shot it as well this season either. No doubt there were going to adjustments and growing pains for as the Sixers incorporated Simmons and with more availability from Embiid, but as the season progresses they will need more from the Saric.

The other crazy thing about the wins over the Clippers and Lakers was the manner in which JJ Redick struggled. He shot 7 of 25 from the floor and 1 for 15 from three-point land. He did make some late buckets inside against the Lakers, but he’s here to knock down shots.

I believe Brett Brown will figure out a way to get more out of Saric. The Croatian works way too hard and cares far too much to not get going. With Redick, shooters can be streaky. It happens. And even when he is not making shots, he provides a lot in terms of leadership and example. How Fultz will fit in and what his shooting form will look like is anybody’s guess, but they didn’t give up a lot to move up two spots for nothing. He wasn’t the consensus first overall pick by accident. My sense is in addition to the shoulder issue, he is struggling mightily with his confidence. So it could be a process with him when he’s ready to return.

To be winning without much of a contribution from these players speaks volumes about how good the Sixers' big three (Embiid, Simmons and Covington) have been. And it’s been noticed nationally. The win over the Lakers was a coming out party of sorts for those on the fringes. They are coming to the realization that we’ve known in this city for some time now.

This team is a playoff contender now. The question is how much better will they be at full compliment?