Sixers-Rockets: 5 things you need to know

sixers-rockets-matchup.jpg

Sixers-Rockets: 5 things you need to know

The Sixers (15-56) will try to avoid matching the longest losing skid in NBA history when they finish their three-game road trip against the Houston Rockets (48-22).

Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. (CSN) at the Toyota Center.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. History in the making
The Sixers' losing streak has produced some incredible numbers.

They've been outscored by 16.9 points a game, allowed 111 points a game and been held under 100 points 18 times.

Still, the only number that matters when the Sixers hit the floor on Thursday is one, as in they are just a single game away from tying the NBA record for consecutive losses with 26. The mark is currently held by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers.

While the Sixers would certainly like to avoid that scenario and win for the first time since Jan. 29, it likely won't happen in Houston. The Rockets sit in fourth place in the supremely-competitive Western Conference and have won four games in a row, all against teams under .500.

2. Fear the beard
Dwight Howard might want all the attention, but the focus of the Rockets clearly revolves around James Harden.

Harden is fifth in the NBA in scoring with 24.9 points per game. The All-Star is also averaging 5.7 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Plus, Harden connects on 36.9 percent of his shots from three-point range.

But don't confuse him for just a jump shooter. Harden lives in the lane with his patented Euro step. He averages 8.5 free throw attempts per game, fourth-highest in the entire league.

Harden missed the first game between these two teams earlier this season, a 123-117 overtime win on Nov. 13. However, he has recently been a matchup nightmare for the Sixers. The fifth-year guard averaged 31.0 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds against them in the two meetings last season.

Whether he's knocking down jumpers with that lefty stroke or getting to the rim, Harden will pose a tough challenge for the Sixers on Thursday.

3. Duck and cover
Harden isn't the only player the Sixers have to worry about from beyond the arc.

The Rockets are a lethal team from three-point range. They attempt a league-high 26.1 shots from deep per game and are fifth in makes at 9.3.

The Sixers should know just how dangerous the Rockets are at hitting threes. They gave up 15 of them in this season's first matchup.

Thursday night won't be a situation when the Sixers can lock down the perimeter early and discourage their opponent from hoisting up treys. With the Rockets' habit of firing all night, the Sixers will need to pay heavy attention to their shooters.

4. Injuries
Tony Wroten (ankle) will miss his third straight game.

Nerlens Noel (knee) and Jason Richardson (knee) are out.

Howard knocked knees during practice on Wednesday, but the center will be fine to take the court against the Sixers.

Francisco Garcia missed the Rockets' last two games because of personal reasons.

5. This and that
• Despite the skid, the Sixers are somehow still ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks in the standings. The Bucks have the NBA's worst record at 13-58.

• While the Sixers have been outscored by 16.9 points per game during their skid, the 2010-11 Cavs were outscored by 13.7 points a night.

• The Rockets are shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range during their four-game win streak.

• The Rockets haven't lost at home since Jan. 24, five days before the Sixers' last win.

• James Anderson led all scorers with 36 points during the season's first meeting between the teams.

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

BOX SCORE

Rewind 24 hours.

The Sixers were walking off the court Friday night after a dismal blowout loss to the Magic that left Brett Brown reflecting on Saturday, “Here in Philadelphia, at home, that’s not good enough.”

The Sixers had lacked fire and grit, especially with Joel Embiid on the floor against a sub-.500 Magic team that had played the night before in Memphis. 

They had a day to turn it around. A playoff contending Celtics squad was coming to town and Embiid wasn’t available because of his back-to-back limitations. The shorthanded Sixers (see below) had a tall task ahead of them. 

The Sixers reacted by jumping out early and kept the Celtics at bay in the first half. Even when the Celtics cut their lead to three midway through the second quarter, the Sixers responded with an 8-0 burst to go up by a game-high 11 points. 

The Celtics exposed the Sixers' defensive void in the paint without Embiid in the third. With the Sixers up 65-58, Isaiah Thomas drew a foul against Jahlil Okafor. That play sparked a 9-0 Celtics run over the next two minutes, in which Thomas scored six of those points (including four at the line). The Celtics took back the lead during that stretch and forced the Sixers to play catchup.

The Sixers cut the Celtics lead to one in the fourth with a three from Dario Saric, who played one of his most aggressive games of his short NBA career. After the Celtics jumped back up by seven, the Sixers kept fighting and tied the game 100 apiece. The Celtics were able to pull away and finished with a one-point win, 107-106, after Ersan Ilyasova drained a three at the buzzer. 

Inside the stats
Thomas exploded for 37 points (11 for 19 from the field, 2 for 3 from three, 13 for 15 from the line), four rebounds, and seven assists.

Saric recorded a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, both tying career-highs. 

Ersan Ilyasova dropped 18 points, including three treys, and six rebounds.

Okafor and Sergio Rodriguez scored 15 apiece, with Rodriguez adding eight assists. 

Avery Bradley dropped 20 points and nine rebounds. 

Stauskas starts in place of Covington
Brown turned to shooting guard Nik Stauskas to slide over to the three spot in place of the injured Robert Covington (see below). 

“Boston’s perimeter defense is as good as it is in the NBA,” Brown explained. “I think you need to have more ball handlers, people who can make a play, on the perimeter … I feel that Nik has that ability to put it to the floor and disrupt that aggressive pressure that the Celtics backcourt can put on you.”

Broken ankles
Saric came up with the Sixers' highlight play of the game when he did this to Jonas Jerebko in the third quarter for an instant highlight reel moment. 

Always a student
Not playing, still learning. Embiid has been praised for being an eager student of the game. During warmups he sat courtside to watch film on a laptop even though he wasn’t suiting up. 

Injury updates
Joel Embiid is not playing in back-to-back games and sat out the back end of this home-home series for rest … Robert Covington sat out with a sprained left knee he suffered on Friday after colliding with T.J. McConnell chasing a ball out of bounds … Jerryd Bayless missed his fourth straight game with left wrist soreness. 

Up next
The Sixers host the Nuggets on Monday night.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.