The 16-win Houston Rockets had only eight players dressed for Wednesday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

The task for the Sixers was securing the Eastern Conference’s top seed, and they boosted their chances of doing so with a 135-115 win over Houston at the Toyota Center. 

The 45-21 Sixers now lead the second-place Nets by two games. 

Joel Embiid led the team with 34 points and 12 rebounds. 

Here’s three takeaways:

Simmons plays excellent early

Ben Simmons five-of-six field goals shot in the first quarter. Three of those were jumpers. 

He made a nine-footer in the post turning over his left shoulder, and he also drained a 16-footer fadeaway late in the quarter. In between, he missed a pull-up try from the left elbow.

Against a Rockets team that’s barely able to dress the minimum number of players, Simmons was smart to push the pace and pressure Houston’s defense with downhill attacks. That’s a natural approach for him, and it was a good way to wear down the Rockets early.

Embiid takes advantage

The Sixers had advantages across the board Wednesday, but none were more obvious than Embiid’s.

Embiid was defended by Kelly Olynyk, Houston’s only healthy big man. He started two-for-eight from the floor but still posted 17 first-half points and did a good job passing out of double teams. 

Bench avoids drama

Matisse Thybulle shouldn’t catch anyone off guard anymore. He’s incredibly gifted at darting into passing lanes and blocking jumpers, skills that should appear on scouting reports across the league. Still, he seems to consistently stun opponents.

Within his first six minutes Wednesday, Thybulle had two blocks and two steals.

Rivers played some zone defense with Thybulle on the floor early in the second quarter. The results were mixed, but it’s an intriguing defense whenever Thybulle is on the court, especially with Simmons. The two still aren’t playing together much, though.

Furkan Korkmaz was sidelined Wednesday by a right ankle sprain and Tyrese Maxey joined the four Sixers bench regulars — Thybulle, George Hill, Shake Milton and Dwight Howard — in the team’s rotation. Maxey converted two catch-and-shoot threes and recorded 12 points and seven assists in 22 minutes.  

Shake Milton took charge of the Sixers’ second unit in the first half, scoring 12 points on 10 field-goal attempts in his initial stint. 

The team’s bench closed this one out nicely, allowing the starters to all have a short night. Tobias Harris’ 26 minutes were the most of any Sixer.

Up next

The 45-21 Sixers will travel back to Philadelphia for a home back-to-back Friday and Saturday against the 30-36 New Orleans Pelicans and the 19-47 Detroit Pistons.