Sixers vs. Rockets: PJ Tucker eliminated early, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey strong in victory

The Sixers’ win over the Rockets Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center was much less close than the previous two.

The Sixers advanced to 37-19 with a 123-104 win over Houston. They will host the Cavs in their last game before the All-Star break on Wednesday.

James Harden had 28 points and 10 assists. Tyrese Maxey had 26 points while Joel Embiid had 23.

Jalen Green led the Rockets with 29 points.

Sixers’ Furkan Korkmaz (personal reasons) and Houston’s Kevin Porter Jr. (left foot bruise) were out.

PJ Tucker was ruled out in the first half with right calf pain. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after the game Tucker was “doing fine” and wanted to return.

Though the Sixers have yet to officially add Dewayne Dedmon, the veteran big man is expected to sign with the team soon.

Here are observations on the Sixers’ win over the Rockets:

Dunk Contest Preview

Embiid made a fadeaway jumper in the first game of the game and seemed poised to continue his recent first-quarter dominance.

However, the Rockets were competitive early on and reminded the Sixers of how they beat them in a double overtime contest in Houston. Jabari Smith Jr., No. 3 overall, hit a put back layup on Embiid and the Rockets won some 50-50 balls.

Kenyon Martin Jr. went 4-4 off the floor in the first quarter, and each of those field goals was a high-flying dunk. Three of those jams were in transition where the Sixers conceded several undisputed hoops. For what it’s worth, Martin has plenty of bounce and was certainly fun to see early Monday night cheering for the Rockets. Along with Delaware Blue Coats guard Mac McClung, he will be among the contestants in this year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

Embiid “only” had eight points in the first quarter, although he helped the Sixers produce consistently good offense by sticking to the easy game. Tobias Harris made a catch-and-shoot three-pointer when Embiid was doubled up at the post and immediately passed it back to Harden, who swung the ball to an open Harris. As Houston scrutinized Embiid, he understood that returning the ball straight to the entrance passer was generally the smart move.

Still, the Sixers were quite fortunate that the Rockets were trailing at halftime despite their superior rush. Houston’s busy players missed many jumpers; Smith went into the game 3 for 14 from the floor, Green 6 for 20, and the Rockets started 0 for 11 from three-point range.

No nice half on the glass

The Sixers’ second unit got off to a good start and looked poised to build a big lead.

On his home debut, Jalen McDaniels made a smooth grab it and go game late in the first quarter, sliding down the floor before hitting a one-and-one leaner. Maxey was aggressive on both ends, earning an easy two points when he anticipated a Smith pass, swiped it and lifted off to a fast break layup. Paul Reed also caught a perimeter steal that led to a shake Milton dunk. The Sixers forced 11 rocket turnovers in the first half.

However, Reed later encountered a rough patch. He missed two shots from close range, committed two quick fouls and a turnover in backfield, and the Rockets responded to a 41-30 deficit with a 10-0 run. While it was certainly reasonable at times to believe that Reed deserved more leeway from Rivers, those kinds of stretches hurt his case for an extended run as the Sixers’ sole backup center. While Rivers was unable to comment on Dedmon ahead of the game as the 33-year-old is yet to sign, it will be interesting to hear how he views the backup big situation with the 7-footer on board.

On paper, McDaniels and Dedmon can perhaps make the Sixers a slightly better rebounding team. They haven’t been good this year and Monday’s first half was another illustration. The Rockets went up 44-43 against a Jae’Sean Tate runner, Embiid missed a couple of middle jumpers, and the Sixers finally secured a stop on a possession that included two offensive boards from Usman Garuba. Harris scored six straight Sixers points and the team halted Houston’s momentum.

Despite this, the Rockets scored the first 16 second chance points of the game. It’s okay if the Sixers don’t make dramatic rebound improvements, but that kind of performance clearly can’t happen in the playoffs. Better teams than the 13-44 Rockets are likely to turn this extreme advantage into a win.

Tucker goes out, Maxey shines in the second half

Tucker only played a seven-minute first stint before the Sixers shut out the 37-year-old.

He has appeared in 54 of the team’s 56 games, including 17 in a row. The Sixers would obviously be cautious if Tucker didn’t play through significant physical issues in the second half of the season. They signed him with the playoffs in mind and don’t want to jeopardize his availability there.

Maxey started the third quarter in Tucker’s place and stuck to his game, drilling two threes and driving in for a goalie layup. Harden and Embiid also knocked down early in the third three, hurting the Rockets’ chances of an unlikely win, especially given their complete lack of long-range successes until a hard-fought green-jumper over McDaniels.

The Rockets aren’t the toughest competition, but McDaniels had plenty of promising moments. He bothered the Houston drivers a few times in the paint with his length, looking comfortable in the transition and taking a turn three in the fourth quarter. Maxey followed with a confident pull-up triple that extended the Sixers’ lead to 107-88.

Maxey earned a team-high 35 minutes Monday while Embiid played 31 and was unneeded in the fourth. Montrezl Harrell and ex-sixer Boban Marjanovic were among those who showed up at trash time.

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