It wasn’t going to be an easy task. The Sixers were looking to snap a three-game losing streak against one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.
Instead, James Harden dropped a 44-point triple-double and the Sixers lost a season-high fourth straight, 118-108, to the Rockets at Toyota Center Friday night.
Despite a stellar performance from Ben Simmons, the Sixers’ offense couldn’t keep up with Houston’s prolific offense. Unlike their putrid effort in Indiana, the Sixers did show fight in this one. They simply couldn’t get over the hump after the Rocket’s 40-point second quarter and couldn't get stops on Harden in key spots.
After losing all four games on their road trip, the Sixers fall to 7-12 on the road and 23-14 overall. They return home Monday to host the Thunder (7 p.m./NBCSP).
Here are observations from the loss.
Playing at Simmons’ speed
The Rockets play at the second-highest pace in the NBA. That pace seemed to suit Simmons just fine. Simmons was aggressive attacking the rim and pushing the ball in transition. He actually led the team in scoring at the half with 13 points and had just one turnover.
Simmons with the moves.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 4, 2020
He works his way against Harden to sneak in for the little jam action. pic.twitter.com/EIbEiuBfSB
Those transition opportunities were created by some exceptional defense from Simmons. He had turns on both Harden and Russell Westbrook and acquitted himself well. Harden got his because, if you haven’t heard, he’s really freaking good. But Simmons did well to make him work and easily did the best job of any of the Sixers' defenders.
This was one of, if not Simmons’ finest performance of the season. Of course, you’d still like to see him incorporate more shooting from outside the paint and do better at the foul line (3 of 7). But this version of Simmons will help the Sixers win a lot of games. He took a season-high 20 shots, making 13 for his 29 points, and had a triple-double with 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He also added four blocks and three steals.
A rusty Embiid
At times, Joel Embiid looked like a guy that hadn’t played in almost a week.
He had a difficult matchup in the high-flying Clint Capela. Capela used his speed and high fitness level to his advantage, beating Embiid rim to rim. The pick-and-roll was an issue and helped Capela score a season-high 30 points.
Embiid seemed to be pushing himself. He had an early block and challenged a shot in transition. He also had a nice give-and-go with Simmons in transition after coming away with a steal.
Embiid used his strength advantage over Capela and forced the Rockets to double team him fairly frequently, but he just wasn’t quite himself, going 7 of 17 and finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Burke at the two
With rookie Matisse Thybulle (right knee bruise and sprain) and veteran James Ennis (stomach illness) out, Brett Brown needed to get a little creative with his wing minutes. On Friday, he used Trey Burke as a small two.
The strategy worked quite well as Burke provided a spark as a player that can create off the dribble in the half court. Playing alongside Simmons, it creates an interesting backcourt. You lose a little something on defense because of his size, but Burke sure can score. He had 11 points and three assists in 16 minutes.
Just not enough firepower
The Sixers’ defense actually wasn’t horrible. Yes, the Rockets scored 118 points, but outside of Harden and Capela, it’s not like they shot the lights out (47.7 percent).
The issue was the Sixers’ offense couldn’t keep up. Josh Richardson (seven) and Al Horford (seven) didn’t provide enough scoring punch. Richardson had something going with Simmons in the pick-and-roll and did record eight assists. Mike Scott’s struggles also continued (0 of 4).
Outside shooting was an issue. The Sixers hit only 2 of 13 from three in the first half and just 6 of 27 for the game. The Rockets were 12 of 32 from beyond the arc.
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