Reinvigorated Rockets prepare for inconsistent Sixers
Riding a season-high-tying six-game winning streak with a mostly healthy rotation, the Rockets are brimming with confidence and resembling the squad that opened the season with legitimate championship aspirations.
At least one person is curious Houston will manage its sudden resurgence.
"It's pretty good right now," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Maybe too much.
"Just trying to walk that line, but I trust my guys. I knew they were going to get it right."
The Rockets (39-25) will conclude their stretch against Eastern Conference frontrunners on Friday when they host the Philadelphia 76ers.
Houston climbed into a three-way tie for third place in the West with its 107-95 victory at Toronto on Tuesday, a triumph that followed an 11-point win in Boston on Sunday. The Raptors and Celtics, along with the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia, rank as favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Rockets finding their rhythm against this caliber of foe validates their swelling self-esteem.
Houston doesn't yet have its full complement of players, but the performances of late reflect the potency of its available parts. When forward Kenneth Faried (left hip flexor) and guard Iman Shumpert (right calf) return from their respective injuries, the Rockets will be 10-deep with veteran hands and versatile enough to match up against opposing lineups big and small.
Attrition proved costly for the Rockets earlier this season, but those unexpected roster holes led to the in-season additions of Faried, Shumpert and guard Austin Rivers. Now, with 18 games left in their season, the Rockets have one objective prior to the playoffs: remain healthy.
"I think we feel healthy," Rockets guard Chris Paul said. "So if that's the case, then we're going to be tough."
The 76ers continued their bizarrely inconsistent play on Wednesday, surrendering a driving layup to Chicago guard Zach LaVine in the waning seconds of a 108-107 road loss to the Bulls.
The game marked the 76ers' seventh in succession without All-Star center Joel Embiid, who remains sidelined by left knee soreness. Philadelphia fell to 4-3 in that stretch without Embiid, who is questionable for a return against the Rockets. Prior to the loss in Chicago, 76ers coach Brett Brown told reporters the team was "still going through" an evaluation on Embiid, who the team is striving to have healthy for the playoffs. Embiid did not travel with the team to Chicago.
Philadelphia coughed up a double-digit lead in a loss to Golden State last Saturday and has suffered double-digit losses to Portland (twice), Toronto, Denver and Washington since Dec. 30. Consistency from quarter to quarter remains a novel concept.
"We've been in a couple games now where the fourth quarter has been tight, kind of the same scenario as this one," 76ers forward Tobias Harris said. "Too many home-run plays, too many turnovers and not really great execution on our end. When the fourth quarter comes, we've got to find a way to get to the free-throw line, get in the bonus, and help ourselves a little bit and make it easier for ourselves. Something that we can learn and progress from.
"Something that we can learn from this game going forward is we've got to bring it every night no matter who it is."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 8, 2019