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Preview: Rockets vs. Sixers

Setting the scene for Houston's matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers

HOUSTON - Setting the scene for Houston’s matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers:

The Basics:

Philadelphia 76ers (15-56) at Houston Rockets (48-22)

Point Differential:

Philadelphia: -11.4 (NBA rank: 30th)

Houston: +5.0 (NBA rank: 5th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Philadelphia: 95.6 (30th)

Houston: 108.5 (4th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Philadelphia: 107.1 (27th)

Houston: 102.4 (10th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Philadelphia: 101.91 (1st)

Houston: 98.17 (9th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Philadelphia: 46.8% (29th)

Houston: 53.5% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Philadelphia: 16.6 (T-29th)

Houston: 16.6 (T-29th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Philadelphia: 47.9% (26th); offensive rebound rate: 25.2% (T-18th); defensive rebound rate: 72.6% (25th)

Houston: 52.0% (3rd); offensive rebound rate: 27.5% (T-7th); defensive rebound rate: 73.4% (T-22nd)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Philadelphia: .265 (T-20th)

Houston: .386 (1st)

It certainly seems hard to believe now, but in the wake of Houston’s 123-117 overtime loss to Philadelphia back on November 13, both clubs came away owning records of 5-4. Since that time of course, the Rockets have soared off into the stratosphere while the Sixers have … well, you know.

There’s no real need to rehash that contest at this point because it figures to have so very little bearing on tonight’s proceedings. James Anderson erupted for a career-high 36 points that evening; since that time he has hit the 20-point plateau just once. James Harden didn’t play, which is kind of a big deal. Neither did Rookie of the Year favorite Michael Carter-Williams. On the flip side, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Tony Wroten (who recorded his first career triple-double) and Darius Morris did suit up for Philly and combined to score 69 points that night. Only Wroten remains on the team, however, and he will not play tonight due to injury.

You get the idea. Attempting to compare what happened between the Rockets and Sixers that November night with what is about to take place today isn’t just apples and oranges, it’s more like trying to equate Byron Mullens with Lord Byron – the names are the same and that’s about it (although who knows, maybe Mr. Mullens also possesses a gift for penning satire in iambic pentameter).

This, then, will not be the typical number crunching, analytical preview. There’s no need to make this complicated. While the Sixers have lost 25 in a row by an average of nearly 17 points per game, the Rockets have racked up the league’s second-best winning percentage, going 19-6 with an average margin of victory of more than seven points per contest. They are the vastly superior team and provided they approach this contest professionally, that reality promises to be made manifest in a most resounding way on the Toyota Center court tonight.

Know Thy Enemy

Look, Thaddeus Young is a fine player. Ditto for Michael Carter-Williams, who is on pace to join Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only players in NBA history to average at least 16 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists per game during their rookie campaigns. And the Rockets have already borne witness to what the aforementioned James Anderson can conjure when the stars align just right.

But the Rockets’ primary enemy tonight is hubris. They can’t overlook Philadelphia. They can’t simply show up and expect a win to automatically be recorded in their favor. And there’s no reason to believe Houston’s players will approach it that way, either. To a man, they’ve repeated the mantra that respect must be given and, what’s more, they also understand that far too much is on the line these days to allow any sort of slip up in such a take-care-of-business game.

To be sure, the Sixers have an exceedingly bright future ahead of them. They are playing the long game and possess the kind of big picture thinkers who will help ensure that, eventually, they will not just win, but win big. It may be difficult to see today, but they are a gathering storm on the Eastern Conference horizon. Scoff at that notion if you must, but remember, too, that many missed the telltale signs of the hurricane brewing in Houston back when it was but a single cell barely on the radar, and few foresaw the developing tempest that started in Seattle before it ultimately reached super storm status in OKC.

Like those two teams before them, the Sixers will require plenty of patience and good fortune in their attempt to build a burgeoning basketball powerhouse. But bit-by-bit the seeds are being sewn and the clouds are growing heavy. In time, the downpour will begin, bringing an end to Philly’s drought and paving the way for seasons filled with the sort of success its passionate fan base demands.

That is for the future, however; a future that should in no way, shape or form begin tonight.

In the spotlight

When last these two teams met, Jeremy Lin was robbed of the ability to savor the greatest shooting performance of his career when the Sixers improbably rallied from a fourth quarter deficit and defeated Houston in overtime. And while it’s unlikely he’ll duplicate his stat line which included nine 3s, 34 points and 11 assists that evening, there’s a very good chance he’ll have an opportunity to produce big numbers in a much more satisfying manner tonight. Lin has scored in double-figures in each of the last four games, and Philly’s ultra-fast pace and defensive deficiencies figure to strongly indicate that streak will be stretched to five by the time the night is through.

Injury Update

Greg Smith (knee) is out.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.