The Rockets are hitting the road for a three-game swing that starts tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Houston will be without the services of Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza. Also doubtful for the game is Nene.
As much as it hampers the Rockets to lose Ariza and probably Nene, the Rockets are in a much better position to handle those losses than they were last season. Then, they would have had to turn to Corey Brewer or Sam Dekker to fill in for Ariza. Now they have Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and can still have PJ Tucker coming off the bench to provide minutes at the wing position.
Last season, the Rockets played out the season with just two true bigs in Clint Capela and Nene. With Nene sitting on back-to-backs, the Rockets were forced to rely on Montrezl Harrell to give them minutes at the position. Harrell was great in spots, but as a player already undersized as a power forward, he floundered plenty of times on both ends of the court.
Cue Daryl Morey once again, who went out and signed Tarik Black to be the third center on the Houston roster. With the Nene situation, Black is really more like a 2.5 on the depth chart rather than the third center. With Nene guaranteed to miss more games and Capela to likely get a knock or two, Black’s contributions will be vital to maintaining consistency on both ends of the court.
But enough about Houston. Let’s talk about the Philadelphia 76ers. Once dubbed the 6-76ers (h/t Xiane), The Process seems to be complete. Philly started with a murderer’s row in the East, opening at Washington, home against the Celtics, and at Toronto. The Sixers lost all three games, but bounced back with a nice win in Detroit. Ben Simmons had a triple-double.
The Markelle Fultz shoulder situation will be the topic of discussion tonight, as a single cortisone shot has suddenly been blown way out of proportion. Fultz will be fine.
As for the Captain of The Process, Joel Embiid continues to win at pretty much everything (except against Hassan Whiteside on Twitter). Embiid gave me my favorite non-Rockets moment of last year though when we channelled WWE legend Triple H during his intro.
What’s more, Rockets fans should remember that last year Embiid was an absolute force when the teams met in Philadelphia. It was an incredibly memorable game, and not just because James Harden had a 50-point triple double. No, the game was awesome because it felt like every time the Rockets, weary and injured during a 5-game road trip, started to pull away, the young Sixers kept clawing back. It was impressive to watch a young team starting to put things together. What’s more, it just seemed like Embiid was about as perfect as you can be as a rookie. The only hole in his game seemed to be pick-and-roll defense, and even then you have to remember that no one player can solve a pick-and-roll run by James Harden.
I don’t know if Philly is a playoff team. What I do know is that they have tons of young talent (the three guys mentioned earlier and Dario Saric), plus some vets in J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Amir Johnson, and Jerryd Bayless who all know their roles on this team. If they can put everything together, they’re a terrifying out for any of the top teams in the East.
Tip-off is at 6pm CT.