Dec 5, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) looks up after a play during the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
PREVIEW: Rockets at Sixers- Feb. 13
The Rockets will try to recover from back-to-back last-second losses when they visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night. After losing to Sacramento on free throws with 0.3 seconds left on Wednesday night, the Rockets lost on an alley-oop at the buzzer in Miami on Friday. The Rockets beat the Sixers in double overtime on Dec. 5, despite Joel Embiid’s 39 points.
Eye on the Sixers
Record: 36-19 (3rd in Eastern Conference)
Offensive rating (rank): 115.4 (5th)
Defensive rating (rank): 111.7 (6th)
Behind an MVP-caliber season from Joel Embiid, the Sixers have gone 24-7 since starting the season 12-12. Embiid is the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 33.4 points per game while shooting a career-high 53.9% from the field. Embiid has finished second to Nikola Jokic in the MVP race the last two seasons, but he has a chance to break through this season, especially after scoring 47 points against Jokic last month. The Sixers are third in the East despite their three leading scorers, Embiid, James Harden, and Tyrese Maxey, missing at least 12 games
Matchup to watch: Jae’Sean Tate vs. James Harden
A foot injury forced Harden to miss 14 games earlier this season, but he’s played in 30-of-32 games since returning. Harden is averaging 21.3 points per game this season, which is his lowest since he was coming off the bench in Oklahoma City, but he’s also shooting less than he has since then. Harden averaged 24.5 shots per game during the 2018-19 season, but that number has dropped to 14.5 this season. While he’s not scoring as much, Harden’s distributing is up. He’s averaging a league-best 10.8 assists per game. With Kevin Porter Jr. set to miss his 16th straight game and Eric Gordon now with the Clippers, expect Tate to draw the assignment of defending Harden on Monday. He started at point guard on Friday in Miami, and he’s the Rockets’ best perimeter defender. Tate is one of two Rockets remaining who played with Harden before his trade to Brooklyn, and Harden fired a ball at him during a training camp practice.
What I’m watching for
This is a tough matchup for Alperen Sengun because he is matched up with the league’s leading scorer in Embiid, and then there’s Harden, who is as good at exploiting bad matchups as anyone. Embiid had a big game against the Rockets in December, but he only scored 16 of his 39 points with Sengun defending him. I’m also watching how Harden interacts with the young Rockets, especially after the game. The rumors of Harden returning to the Rockets as a free agent this summer continue to be out there, and I will be glued to what he says about a possible return after the game because the talk isn’t going away any time soon.