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Rockets nearly fall to winless Sixers as embarrassments continue

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A new look starting lineup helped, but the Rockets still almost fell to the worst team, arguably in league history.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Crisis averted.

The Houston Rockets avoided embarrassment tonight after letting the Philadelphia 76ers hang around in a game they needed to win to get their season back on track.

Ultimately the Rockets outplayed and overpowered an inferior opponent despite a rash of turnovers and careless offensive movement. Final score: 116-114 thanks to a 50-point game from James Harden. The Beard would have easily passed his career high of 51 had he not missed four free throws down the stretch.

A loss to the worst team in the league would have been a devastating moral defeat for a Rockets team still seeking to restore their identity. Instead the Rockets will seek revenge against the New York Knicks on Sunday with a dose of confidence.

The Rockets win puts the team at 6-10 on the year with two wins and three losses under new head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. The young coach shook up the starting lineup on Friday night:

PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: James Harden
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Dwight Howard
C: Clint Capela

At halftime, associate head coach Chris Finch said Capela's start was an effort to get the Rockets best players on the floor. Capela didn't play much in the second half, despite the fact that the Rockets played best when he and Dwight shared the floor. The Sixers actually took a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Bickerstaff decided that small-ball with Ariza at the 4 and Brewer at the three (still playing like two-way garbage) was good enough for the win. He wasn't wrong, barely.

Anyone watching the game didn't come away thinking of this as anything more than another awful performance. They're 2-7 in their last nine games, and the two wins came because Corey Brewer hit a miracle runner buzzer-beater to send the Blazers game into overtime and now the Rockets sneaked past a team losing its 27th straight game. Both of those have come at home.

Game Notes:

  • Nerlens Noel was a late scratch for tonight's game with a sore knee. Rockets fans will need to wait for J.B. Bickerstaff's post-game comments to determine if Capela was meant to impede the 76ers usual Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing and this was an unnecessary temporary switch.
  • Dwight Howard played a season-high 40 minutes on Wednesday night and intends to play in his first set of back-to-backs tomorrow night. Dwight's high usage rate in this stretch makes it surprising Bickerstaff would pair Capela and Howard at all.
  • Capela put in a great game with defensive intensity and a few spiffy post moves. Bickerstaff appears to have a green light for Capela on the offensive end. Even with Dwight on the court Capela was authorized to call for the ball down low.
  • Dwight Howard and Clint Capela looked good on the court together. This was not Howard-Asik. The two big men split to opposite wings on offense and took turns screening for shooters. Drifting to the wings left the middle of the court open for James Harden or Ty Lawson to operate and attack the basket. Several times the 76ers put all of the attention on Howard either preventing him from receiving the ball in the post or attempting to keep him off the offensive glass. The attention Howard received allowed Capela to drift free for several free baskets. They both finished with double-doubles
  • Patrick Beverley looked like a defensive bulldog after being inserted in the starting lineup. The pestering point guard still looks a step slow courtesy of an ankle injury, but Beverley offered a full lesson on 'being annoying as hell' for most of the game which included plenty of strips and a technical foul.
  • Terrence Jones was the first man off the bench for the Rockets, spelling Capela for a short time before Capela retook a spot on the court alongside Dwight Howard later in the first quarter.
  • Former Houston Rockets Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington started for Philadelphia tonight. Covington dropped 28 with 8 steals and Canaan had one of his best games of the season.
  • The Rockets honored basketball Hall of Famer Guy V. Lewis who spent thirty years as head coach of the University of Houston. Lewis' tenure as head coach of the Cougars included coaching Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Elvin Hayes.
  • Earlier in the season the Rockets handed the Brooklyn Nets their first victory of the season. That fact weighed in the back of my mind all game.
  • Robert Covington has Dwight Howard's haircut.

Trust the process, 76ers fans.