IT'S ABOUT missed potentially game-winning open jumpers at the end of games; it's loose balls that always seem to be gobbled up by the other team; it's playing good defense for 23 seconds, only to see a prayer drained at the end of the shot clock; it's an inability to rotate properly on defense to protect against open jump shots.

And it's all been happening to the 76ers for more than 3 weeks now, and when added up, it's equaled a 12-game losing streak.

The Houston Rockets pinned the latest loss on the Sixers last night at the Wachovia Center, 96-91. Most of the aforementioned problems, which have become epidemic on this team, were present again, and a promising start soon gave way to the all-too-familiar result.

After falling behind by 89-76 on a pair of free throws by Carl Landry with 6 minutes, 17 seconds left in the game, the Sixers scored 15 of the game's next 20 points to pull within 94-91 on a tough 12-footer by Allen Iverson with 1:06 left.

Then the all-too familiar happened yet again, as Aaron Brooks made a fadeaway 12-footer from the baseline as the shot clock expired for the final points of the night with 8.5 seconds left.

"I don't think we're mad enough," said Andre Iguodala, who led the Sixers with 24 points. "We've got to go out there and we've got to be angry. We're trying to be positive, but there comes a point where we've got to get down to the nitty-gritty and find a way."

The Sixers took a 27-10 lead midway through the first quarter on a pair of free throws by Elton Brand. That 17-point lead was the their biggest in a game since being up by 23 against the New York Knicks on Halloween night.

But the Rockets got some good play from their bench, including Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova product Kyle Lowry, who scored 11 in the first half to help cut their deficit to 51-48 at the break.

For the night, Houston's bench outscored the Sixers, 46-6.

Perhaps the play that best sums up the 12-game losing streak came at the end of the first half, when Thaddeus Young grabbed a rebound off a missed foul shot by Trevor Ariza with 2.9 seconds left. Young's pass to Jrue Holiday was fumbled, Ariza scooped it and nailed a 20-footer at the buzzer.

Murphy's Law personified. Again.

"When you get a 17-point lead, that's when you start playing harder," said Iverson, who scored 20 points. "As a young team, guys have to realize when you get a team down like that and not ready to play, then blow them out of the gym. We let them back into the game, and once they got back into the game, they got confident, and everything went uphill for them, downhill for us."

The Rockets started the second half with a 20-4 spurt that gave them a 68-55 lead midway through the third quarter. During the spree, the Sixers made one field goal; it was their only one in the first 7 minutes, 20 seconds of the quarter. They wound up shooting 5-for-15 from the floor in that quarter, compared with Houston's 11-for-22, and the Sixers were outscored, 28-13. Brooks had 14 points in the stanza, outscoring the Sixers by himself.

"We know we are not going to play a perfect game, but we did play hard and we did play smart for the most part," Sixers coach Eddie Jordan said. "We are all going to make mistakes, but we lessened those mistakes tonight from what we had in the previous games. The locker room is solid. They are professionals. They come to work every day, and they are still staying together."

Brand collected 19 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth double-double in his last 10 games, and Young had 15 and 11, respectively. Iverson, who has shown improvement in each of the three games he's played since returning to the team, scored 12 points in the fourth quarter.

Landry led six double-figure scorers for the Rockets with 20 points, while Brooks added 19. Rookie Chase Budinger had 15, Luis Scola had 14, Ariza added 13 and Lowry scored 11.

"We're just so snakebitten right now that we can't get anything to go our way," said Iverson, who is battling a stress reaction in his right fibula. "When you're on a losing streak, things don't go right. You pretty much got to do everything perfect at the end of basketball games. We just can't seem to close out."


Yesterday's Sixerville column had a bit of an error. In the part about what the Sixers' rotation might look like when everyone is healthy, Elton Brand's name was omitted. No, there is no inside information, as many readers suggested, this was merely an exercise in juggling names and Brand's name was accidentally left out as one of two names, along with Marreese Speights, who could be the first bigs off the bench.

Young honored

While hanging with his brother and watching basketball on TV, Thaddeus Young got a phone call informing him that his high school, Mitchell High in Memphis, Tenn., wanted to retire his No. 33 jersey and rename the gym in his honor.

Young was a three-time all-state selection at Mitchell. He averaged 26.9 points, 13.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 4.3 steals and 3.6 blocks his senior season.

"My old athletic director called," Young said. "I was, like, 'Huh.' It's a big honor and definitely a big deal, not only retiring your jersey, but changing the name of the school gym to yours is big. I'm looking forward to that."

The ceremony will take place during the NBA season. The gym is now named for former Mitchell star Andre Turner, who spent 6 years in the NBA, including the 1990-91 season with the Sixers. After the ceremony, it will be known as Turner-Young Arena. *