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

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).