The 76ers kick off 2022 at home against the 10-27 Houston Rockets. With a win Monday night, they’ll earn their fourth straight victory.
Here’s three storylines for Monday night:
Drama in Houston
Houston made headlines for the wrong reasons on Saturday when neither Kevin Porter Jr. nor Christian Wood appeared in the second half of a loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Rockets’ seventh straight defeat. Below is a section of a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Kelly Iko:
“Sources said (Rockets assistant coach John Lucas) called out multiple players, including Porter and Christian Wood — who was benched after missing a mandatory COVID-19 testing window — during halftime, focusing on Porter’s play and Wood’s effort level. As things escalated, Porter threw an object, needed to be separated from Lucas and then got in his car and left the arena. Wood refused to sub into the game in the second half, sources added.”
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon and Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that Wood and Porter traveled to Philadelphia but have been suspended for the matchup with the Sixers.
The Rockets have also ruled out Alperen Sengun (right ankle sprain), Armani Brooks, and DeJon Jarreau (health and safety protocols). Eric Gordon was questionable with right hamstring tightness.
For the Sixers, Danny Green is back after being sidelined with COVID-19. Jaden Springer and Myles Powell are out because of health and safety protocols, while Matisse Thybulle was listed as questionable. Dan Burke will again serve as acting head coach with Doc Rivers in COVID protocols.
Looking to keep it going
Burke wished the Sixers could’ve gotten right back at it following an impressive win Thursday in Brooklyn.
“We’re trying to keep this momentum after a three-game road trip,” he said after practice Sunday. “It’s like, we want to play again. We don’t want three, four days.”
Georges Niang hit on the same theme.
“As a collective group, we’re having each other’s back — being ready on the help side; making that extra pass; helping a teammate up,” he said. “I think we’re doing all the little things that teams do. … That’s growth for us.
“We want to keep that momentum trending up. We want to take full advantage of the games at home. I think we’ve build a lot of camaraderie these past three games and continue to grow together.”
The young Rockets rank third in pace and last in turnover percentage and fast-break points conceded, so there likely won’t be as much stress on the Sixers’ half-court offense as usual. Second overall pick Jalen Green is the obvious name to watch. The incredibly athletic shooting guard scored 29 points Saturday and took a rookie-high 14 free throws.
Happy New Year, Joel Embiid
Currently, the Sixers should feel very confident in Joel Embiid regardless of who he faces. Houston has Daniel Theis, a familiar Embiid foe from his time with the Boston Celtics.
Embiid finished an exceptional month of December with averages of 29.2 points on 49.6/39.1/84.5 shooting splits, 11.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks.
“He’s been a monster,” Niang said, “punishing guys in the post, making threes, making contested jump shots as you saw in Boston with that show he put on over there. I think he’s really taken it upon himself to continue to grow as a basketball player, but also grow as a leader.
“And I think that’s the next step for Joel. Joel could go out and score as many points as he wants, but it’s the little things; it’s getting the other four guys on the court with him to do what they need to do to help win games. And I think Joel’s growth as a leader is going to do great things for his career, but also be great for the people around him and the team that he’s on. I’m lucky enough to be on his team, because he’s molding into a top-five player, top-three player in the NBA right now.”