Sixers Liftoff Against Red Hot Rockets

Sixers Liftoff Against Red Hot Rockets

Not unlike our own 76ers, the Rockets got off to a rocky start this
season. Yao Ming went all of five games before calling it a season
(injury, natch), and Houston stumbled out to a 5-12 record. Even when
they last met the Liberty Ballers on February 16, the Rockets were
sitting four games below .500, their playoff chances looking remote.

As the saying goes, they've looked like a different team since then.
Since falling to the Sixers 114-105, Houston has been playing basketball
at a .765 clip, winning 13 of their last 17. Their four losses in that
span have been by an average of five points. And don't look now, but the
Rockets are creeping back into the playoff picture, a mere two games
out of the eight seed in the West, with the rest of the field visible in
their rear view mirror.

This is a dangerous, desperate team to welcome into your building as the calendar turns to April.

In their last go-round with the Sixers, Houston was guided by a
somewhat unlikely scoring duo. Villanova product Kyle Lowry, averaging
13.5 points per game for his career, unloaded a career high 36 on the
Sixers. Lowry was six of nine from beyond the arc, his only three misses
en route to a 15 for 18 shooting night from the field. Simply put, that
can't happen again.

Luis Scola, the club's second leading scorer this season at 18.3 per, dropped 26. Only one other player reached double digits.

Despite their inability to contain two guys who accounted for over
50% of the Rockets' scoring, the Sixers won the game on the strength of a
total team effort, as we've become accustomed to seeing. Andre Iguodala
had a tough night shooting the rock, going 20% from the field, but had
12 rebounds and 10 assists to go with his 13 for a triple-double. Jrue
Holiday added 20, while Elton Brand went 10-11 for a double-double.

Yet the stars of the game started the night on the bench. Lou
Williams and Thad Young each scored 19, part of seven total Sixers in
double digits.

Oddly enough, it's Spencer Hawes who may be one of the keys tonight.
The big guy scored a bunch of clutch baskets before fouling out in
Monday night's impressive win over the Bulls, and he had one of his best
nights of the season against the Rockets, going for 17 and 11. Brad
Miller and Jordan Hill, Houston's top big men in lieu of Yao, leave a
lot to be desired—on both ends of the floor.

With only eight games remaining, the Sixers appear to be locking into
the sixth seed. The Hawks continue to hold a comfortable four game
advantage, and barring a Philly collapse or New York surge, Doug
Collins' crew shouldn't be overly concerned with sliding any further.

That doesn't mean there won't be a sense of urgency on the court
tonight. A streaking team like the Rockets are a good test for the young
Sixers, whose play has been a little up and down of late. If they
intend to compete in and perhaps win a playoff series or two, they're
going to need to be able to beat quality teams back-to-back at some
point.

AP Photo

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.