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Mar 27 2014

Houston, We Have Another Loss

Tonight, the 15-56 Sixers head to Houston to play a pretty damn good 48-22 Rockets team. Barring some sort of March Madness miracle, it’ll be a record-tying 26th consecutive loss.

If you still get a kick out of watching Sixers basketball, you could do worse than tonight’s game. The Rockets play a fun brand of basketball that involves a lot of 3-pointers, and not a lot of long twos. They also have this big guy in the middle, Dwight Howard, who blocks a ton of shots and occasionally makes his free throws. If he is playing well in the postseason, the Rockets are a championship contender. They’re what we hope the Sixers will be in a couple years.

In preparation for the inevitable No. 26, I did a Q&A exchange with Mitchell Felker (@Mitchell_Red94) from Red94.com of the TrueHoop Network. Head over to Red94 to read what I had to say about Hinkie, Noel’s possible return, and the record-breaking losing streak.

Goldwein: I can’t figure out the Rockets. Some nights they look like championship contenders and others they look like they barely belong in the playoffs (well, the Western Conference playoffs). How far can Houston go?

Felker: The Rockets have been more consistent since the All-Star break and even before that to an extent. The problem, besides all the nagging injuries, was all the turnover that Houston has had in the last 2-3 years. Chandler Parsons is most of the way through his third year in the league and is the Rockets most tenured player. The team is still learning how to play with each other in a system that runs very few plays and therefore relies more on chemistry.  Not to mention, adding a player like Dwight Howard would change the way most teams play, so his integration made things even more choppy earlier in the season.
But I don’t think the Rockets have reached their ceiling yet to know where it even sits, so it makes projecting difficult. And the West will be such a meat-grinder this year that anything is possible. The Rockets are probably the league’s highest-variance team, so while a first-round loss would be crushing, I wouldn’t be surprised by that or even an appearance in the Finals.
People like to compare Sam Hinkie and Daryl Morey, but in the “great minds think for themselves” spirit, did the two have any (known) philosophical differences during their time together in Houston.
I think they had the same thoughts on how to use analytics and which type of players to target, but the major difference in what Houston did and what Philadelphia is now attempting to accomplish stems from ownership.  Rockets owner Les Alexander charged Morey with rebuilding on the fly and remaining competitive while seeking a superstar to build around.  And Morey responded with James Harden and Dwight Howard, despite never having a sub-.500 record since taking over.  So while other GM’s like RC Buford and Sam Presti get much more credit, lucking out with the right pick in the right year pales in comparison to the degree of difficulty of the job Morey has done with this Rockets team.

Hinkie’s strategy is a much easier if not safer course of action.  And after the Jrue Holiday-hijacking kick-started his plan, he had no choice but to bottom out.  But now that the die is cast, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him apply some of Morey’s principals.

Is Dwight Howard everything you could have dreamed of and more?

Dwight is everything I could have imagined, for better and worse.  From his dominance in the pick-and-roll, to his free throw inconsistencies; the relaxed, fun presence he brings to the locker room, to the over-the-top antics he insists upon anytime a camera is rolling; the superhuman defense, to the maddening blocks into the third row.  Everything has been as chronicled.
Don’t get me wrong, his positives far outweigh the negatives and the fact that he can carry that perimeter defense to a top-ten defensive efficiency is hard to believe.  He’s not quite the athletic-marvel he once was, but I’d venture to say he’s still in the top-8 league-wide as a building block.

If this were an NCAA tournament game, what seeds would you assign to the two teams?

I don’t mean this as any kind of insult, but I think the 76ers are the worst team in the NBA.  How many players off that roster would play for a typical playoff team?  Three, maybe?  I admit, I haven’t watched enough to what has been the problem with the Milwaukee Bucks this year, but they at least have legit NBA talent.  It’s a coin flip, but I think the Sixers are the bottom-seed

The Rockets seed right where their record has them, 6th overall.  They’ve beaten the Spurs all three times that they’ve played them, but haven’t found a way to topple the Thunder or Clippers yet in three tries apiece.  And while they have the same record as the Heat, no way you can put them ahead of the Champs.

Heading into the season, I think 6th overall is about as high as most realistic-fans figured the team would be.  And if the West standings stay as they are now, Houston would avoid a second-round meeting with OKC and the Clippers.  The Spurs are hardly a reprieve from that fate, but at least the Rockets have film of themselves winning in that matchup.