76ers looking to pad their first-seed lead with a win over Rockets

NBA: APR 09 76ers at Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS, LA – APR 09: New Orleans Pelicans center Willy Hernangomez (9) fouls Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during a NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Philadelphia 76ers at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA on Apr 09, 2021. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)

The 76ers owe a huge “thank you” to the Milwaukee Bucks for their efforts this week. Despite them producing two dominant victories over the Sixers, the Bucks have more than made up for it as they now have taken down the Nets in back-to-back wins. This pushes the Sixers’ lead for first place in the East to 1.5 games with 7 games to play. If they are simply able to win 5 of their next 7, the Sixers will clinch first place in the East and cement their preferred pathway through the playoffs.

With 5 being the magic number of wins, the Sixers will look to get closer to this by notching a victory over the struggling Houston Rockets tonight. Following the San Antonio Spurs matchup on Sunday, Doc Rivers voiced his frustrations with scheduling as the team had to fly out to Chicago before coming back to Texas within a four-day period. Regardless, the team makes its Texas return for an 8:00 matchup with the Rockets tonight.

Houston Rockets

Following the James Harden saga, the Rockets immediately flipped into rebuilding mode this season. With just a few games to go, Houston holds the worst record in the league at 16-49. They also will be with a shorthanded roster and are coming off a 25-point loss to the New York Knicks.

This lengthy injury list will make things easier for the Sixers tonight and expect for them to look to put the game away early. While their lineup has changed greatly throughout the season, the Rockets average just 107.7 points per game and rank 27th in the league in offensive rating.

They are led by Christian Wood who averages 21 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Wood has been extremely impactful in his time with the Rockets but has battled injuries throughout the season. The Rockets are 3-20 in games that Wood has missed this season. If Wood and John Wall (who will miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury) were able to stay healthy this season, there were still expectations for the Rockets to compete for a playoff spot.

Kevin Porter Jr. is also a player worth noting for the Rockets. With a Harden-like play style that is driven by isolation scoring, Porter has averaged 16.6 points in his time in Houston. A variety of off-court and maturity issues led to Porter Jr being released by the Cavaliers earlier this season, but the Rockets have been rewarded by their willingness to give him a second chance. The 21-year-old erupted for a 50 point and 11 assist performance against the Bucks last week which secured the Rockets a rare win.

76ers Continue to Steamroll

It continues to be business as usual for the Sixers as they face another inferior opponent with the goal of extending their first-place lead. Out of the seven games left to play, the Sixers will only face one team with a winning record and the Rockets are expected to be the easiest matchup. Philly is riding a five-game winning streak heading into this matchup and has every intention of continuing this trend.

The Sixers have the second-ranked defense this year and are in the top ten in just about every statistical category on the defensive side of the ball. This is extremely concerning for a struggling Rockets offensive that ranks last in the league in three-point percentage and 28th in field-goal percentage as a whole. It could be a low-scoring game for the opposing team as the Sixers have truly found their defensive identity during this recent stretch.

Even with the compact stretch of games, the Sixers are expected to have all their starters once again tonight. They impressively sit at 24-4 on the season when the current starting lineup is able to play. The Sixers will be without Furkan Korkmaz tonight as he sprained his ankle in the previous matchup. There is seemingly no structural damage to the ankle so there is little concern for Furkan’s long-term availability.

Outlook for 76ers

The biggest key to this game will be the 76ers bench. In the last two matchups against the Spurs and the Bulls, the starters were able to build a big lead only to see it slip away when they stepped off the court. Doc Rivers has been critical of the unit on both sides of the floor and specifically talked about the lack of ball movement. This unit has been a strength of the team prior to the previous two games so look for them to find their form once again.

The 76ers are 13 point favorites in this matchup according to Vegas lines. The goal should be to put the game away early and allow the starters to sit for the majority of the second half. The bench will be under close watch by Doc Rivers after their disappointing performances of late, but a productive game from the unit would go a long way in building the confidence of the young players as the season winds down.

Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire