The Philadelphia 76ers began the new decade by visiting a powerhouse from the west, the Houston Rockets.
After coming off of an impressive outing on Christmas against Milwaukee, ending 121-109, the Sixers left 2019 on a three-game losing streak with losses to the the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat, and the Indiana Pacers.
Opening 2020 against a team like Houston was the last opponent they needed at this point. James Harden, known for his nickname, “The Beard”, averages 38.5 points and nearly eight assists per game. The seven-time all-star can defeat teams singlehandedly. Luckily, he does not have to.
Russell Westbrook complements Harden skills and makes this duo unstoppable by putting up 24 points and eight rebounds per night. Teams are clueless on how to stop this pair of legends. But, did Philly have an answer? Will the tenth-ranked defense have a gameplan? Surely, a six-foot-ten-inch point guard can keep up with Mr. Westbrook and Harden can be locked down by top-notch defender, Josh Richardson, right?
The NBA Friday Showcase game on ESPN was hosted by the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. This game was a possible preview of the NBA finals as these opposing top conference teams face off. The game went exactly as planned for each team, with Simmons and Harden making magic happen. The triple-double machines did what they do best and both created highlight tapes. In terms of teamwork, both teams stuck together all game. The Sixers and Rockets basically tied in field goal percentage and total rebounds. The 3-point percentage seemed to differentiate the two teams as Houston shot 37.5 percent behind the arc while Philly shot a disappointing 22.2 percent. Clint Capela stepped up big in this game by contributing with 30 points and 14 rebounds.
A Russell Wetsbrook layup that came at the eight minute mark in the second quarter gave the Rockets their first lead of the night. The Rockets were up going into halftime with a score of 60-53. When play resumed, they came out of halftime red hot.
They pushed their lead to 18 points during the third quarter. Harden finished the match with 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Simmons and Embiid did their best to keep up by Sim- mons having 29 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds and Embiid, 20 points, 3 assists and 12 rebounds. The Rockets were too much for the visiting 76ers as Houston outscored the Sixers 118-108. The Sixers will come out firing on all cylinders if they meet again in the playoffs.
The Sixers finally closed their road trip with a home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This is their chance to redeem themselves by beating a solid western conference team.
The Thunder’s talent is not nearly as close as the Rocket’s. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads the team in points per game averaging 19.8. Veteran Chris “CP3” Paul averages 6.5 assists per game and leads the team. Big man Steven Adams grabs just over 10 rebounds a game and is ranked eleventh in the league for the average. The Sixers hosted the Thunder on January 6 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The game was close throughout with the Sixers having their highest lead at 13 points a minute be- fore halftime. The Thunder cut the deficit to a two point Sixers lead at halftime. The free throws were an advantage for the Sixers as they shot 83 percent from the line compared to Oklahoma’s 67 percent. Josh Richardson’s 23 points help the Sixers come out on top of the Thunder 120-113. As well as double digits from Al Horford, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Trey Burke. Steven Adams did his best by scoring 24 points and putting up 15 rebounds. Dennis Schroder also contributed with 21 points of his own. The Thunder simply had no answer for the 76ers.