The Sixers' win over the Rockets on Monday night at Wells Fargo Center was much less tight than the two that preceded it.
With a 123-104 victory over Houston, the Sixers moved to 37-19. They'll host the Cavs on Wednesday in their final game before the All-Star break.
James Harden posted 28 points and 10 assists. Tyrese Maxey had 26 points, Joel Embiid 23.
Jalen Green led the Rockets with 29 points.
The Sixers’ Furkan Korkmaz (personal reasons) and Houston’s Kevin Porter Jr. (left foot contusion) were out.
PJ Tucker was ruled out in the first half with right calf soreness. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after the game that Tucker is "fine" and wanted to return.
Though the Sixers have yet to officially add Dewayne Dedmon, the veteran big man is expected to sign with the team soon.
Here are observations on the Sixers' win over the Rockets:
Dunk contest preview
Embiid made a fadeaway jumper on the game’s first play and seemed poised to continue his recent run of first-quarter dominance.
However, the Rockets were competitive early and reminded the Sixers of how they’d beaten them in a double-overtime contest in Houston. No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. scored a put-back layup on Embiid and the Rockets won quite a few 50-50 balls.
Kenyon Martin Jr. went 4 for 4 from the floor in the first quarter and each of those field goals was a high-flying dunk. Three of those jams were in transition, where the Sixers conceded several uncontested hoops. For what it’s worth, Martin has ample bounce and was surely fun to watch early Monday night if you were rooting for the Rockets. Along with Delaware Blue Coats guard Mac McClung, he’ll be among the participants in this year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Embiid “only” had eight points in the first quarter, though he helped the Sixers produce reliably good offense by sticking to the simple play. Tobias Harris made a catch-and-shoot three-pointer when Embiid got doubled in the post and immediately passed back to Harden, who swung the ball to an open Harris. With Houston digging down on Embiid, he understood that giving the ball right back to the entry passer was generally the smart move.
Still, the Sixers were rather fortunate that the Rockets trailed at halftime despite their superior hustle. Houston's high-usage players missed many jumpers; Smith went 3 for 14 from the floor in the game, Green 6 for 20, and the Rockets began 0 for 11 from three-point range.
Not a pretty half on the glass
The Sixers’ second unit had a nice start and looked on the verge of building a big lead.
In his home debut, Jalen McDaniels made a smooth “grab it and go” play late in the first quarter, gliding down the floor before hitting an and-one leaner. Maxey was aggressive on both ends and earned an easy two points when he anticipated a Smith pass, swiped it, and took off for a fast-break layup. Paul Reed also picked up a perimeter steal that led to a Shake Milton dunk. The Sixers forced 11 Rockets turnovers in the first half.
Reed later hit a rough patch, though. He missed two close-range shots, committed two quick fouls and a turnover in the backcourt, and the Rockets responded to a 41-30 deficit with a 10-0 run. While it’s certainly been reasonable at times to believe Reed has deserved more leeway from Rivers, those sorts of stretches have hurt his case for an extended run as the Sixers’ sole backup center. While Rivers couldn’t comment pregame on Dedmon because the 33-year-old hasn’t signed yet, it will be interesting to hear how he views the backup big situation with the 7-footer on board.
On paper, perhaps McDaniels and Dedmon can make the Sixers a slightly better rebounding team. They haven’t been a good one this year, and Monday’s first half was another illustration. The Rockets went up 44-43 on a Jae’Sean Tate runner, Embiid misfired on a couple of mid-range jumpers, and the Sixers then eventually secured a stop on a possession that included two Usman Garuba offensive boards. Harris scored six straight Sixers points and the team halted Houston’s momentum.
Nevertheless, the Rockets posted the game’s first 16 second-chance points. It’s fine if the Sixers don’t make dramatic rebounding improvements, but that kind of performance clearly can’t happen in the playoffs. Better teams than the 13-44 Rockets are likely to turn that extreme of an advantage into a win.
Tucker exits, Maxey shines in second half
Tucker only played a first stint of seven minutes before the Sixers ruled the 37-year-old out.
He’s appeared in 54 of the team’s 56 games, including 17 straight. The Sixers would obviously be prudent to not have Tucker play through any significant physical issues in the season’s second half. They signed him with the playoffs in mind and won’t want to jeopardize his availability there.
Maxey started the third quarter in Tucker's spot and remained on his game, drilling two threes and driving in for a goaltended layup. Harden and Embiid also knocked down threes early in the third, which damaged the Rockets’ chances of an unlikely win, especially given their complete lack of long-range success until a tightly contested Green jumper over McDaniels.
The Rockets aren't the stiffest competition, but McDaniels had numerous promising moments. He bothered Houston drivers a few times in the paint with his length, looked comfortable in transition, and made a fourth-quarter corner three. Maxey followed that up with a confident pull-up triple that extended the Sixers' lead to 107-88.
Maxey received a team-high 35 minutes Monday, while Embiid played 31 and wasn't needed in the fourth. Montrezl Harrell and former Sixer Boban Marjanovic were among those who appeared in garbage time.