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Houston Rockets vs. Philadelphia 76ers game preview

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The Rockets close out their season series against the 76ers tonight in the Toyota Center.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I know you're not supposed to look at the standings or follow how other teams are doing this early in the season. Teams should only care how they are doing since that's all they can control. You're supposed to look at the schedule at two distinct times, and that's it.

But we're fans, so we don't care about those rules.

So it's frustrating to see Sacramento lose twice this week in Dallas and in Memphis. In both games, the Kings led by 20+ in the first half and in both games, they blew the game down the stretch. There's a lot of stakes at play here.

On the surface, I'm hoping the Kings are for real. I've liked a lot of their players for a long time and the Rudy Gay Redemption Story is ridiculously under the radar. The Kings got off to a 5-1 start and looked like they had finally made "the jump." I didn't expect them to keep that pace up, but I also thought that they looked a team that was better than .500. And this season, that might finally be enough to get into the Western Conference playoffs.

Why? Because the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to slosh to a poor record until Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook return. So the teams that are looking to usurp the Thunder's spot need to create as much separation between themselves and OKC because once the horses come back, the Thunder will be on a mission. Most people look at last season's 50 wins as the benchmark to make the playoffs, but I think the parity of the Western Conference makes 45 a more likely number.

But the real kicker as a Rockets fan is that Sacramento failed to close against two Southwest Division contenders. The Mavs and Grizzlies are both going to win a lot of games this season, and losses against teams like the Kings at home are going to be the deciding factor between a top 4 seed and a team clawing their way into the playoffs hoping for a favorable matchup.

The 76ers lost 123-70 last night in Dallas. The Rockets should win this game. Grass is green.

Tip off is at 7pm CST

Matchups:

Point Guard: Isaiah Canaan vs. Michael Carter-Williams

MCW didn't start against Dallas, but he did play 30 minutes and finished with 19/8/5.

However, he finished with the second-worst +/- with -37. The worst was James Harden Destroyer Nerlens Noel at -39.

Advantage: Sixers

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Tony Wroten

I don't know if the Rockets will play Harden. A lot depends on how Harden's ankle is feeling.

Also, I'll say it because the narrative demands that we ignore it: James Harden's defense has been much better this season. It's always been a matter of effort, and Harden is putting forth the effort. Of course the media latches onto Andrew Wiggins blowing by him for the dunk or Harden letting Corey Brewer catch a fantastic pass from Mo Williams for a layup.

But the Rockets don't need Harden to be All-Defense. They don't need him to be a shutdown defender. That's what Ariza is for. The Rockets just need Harden to play acceptable defense for most of the game. He's going to get beat. He's going to be made to look a fool. So do most guys who guard Harden.

And right now, Harden is doing exactly what Houston needs him to do on the defensive end. But don't tell ESPN, because they just want to bash him for any reason at all.

Advantage: Rockets

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Hollis Thompson

The Sixers may not start MCW and may go with the Wroten-Thompson-McDaniels starting lineup that they used against Dallas. But I doubt that since it went so poorly.

Either way, Ariza should have the advantage here.

Advantage: Rockets

Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Dinosaur Motorcycles has put two decent performances together. The D-Mo we've come to expect will be due for a poor game because he's all about inconsistency.

Advantage: Sixers

Center: Dwight Howard vs. Henry Sims

This matchup needs to be a bloodbath. Howard finished with the worst +/- of the starters and he also picked up 5 fouls. He also had 5 turnovers.

The game could get a lot easier if Howard shows up in a big way.

Advantage: Rockets

Bench

Rockets: Propeller Plane, Tarik BlackKostas Papanikolaou, Troy Daniels

76ers: K.J. McDaniels, JaKarr Simpson, Nerlens Noel, Brandon Davies, Chris Johnson, Drew Gordon

Advantage: Even

Prediction: Rockets win 108-92.

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