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 NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).