HOUSTON – Nothing changed.
The 76ers continued to do what they’ve been doing since Christmas Day: lose on the road. This time, it was a 118-108 setback to the Houston Rockets.
The Sixers (23-14) have now lost four consecutive games, all on the road, after their thrilling holiday victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at home. This is the Sixers’ first four-game losing streak since December 2017. The loss also dropped their road record to 7-12.
“Losing four in a row, it [stinks],” Joel Embiid said. “And it doesn’t feel like we are getting better. So it is frustrating.”
The two-time All-Star and franchise player was asked if he was concerned that the losing would take a toll on team chemistry.
“If it’s not taking a toll on anybody ... I care about winning,” Embiid said. "It’s taking a toll on me. All I care about is winning. It’s [stinks].
“We got to find a way. I guess we got to keep fighting.”
After a meeting and productive practice Thursday, coach Brett Brown had hoped to buck the trend. He also wanted to a see a “maniacal competitiveness.”
He wanted to see effort and a recognition that 46 games remained in the season.
“So we can’t get too irrational,” Brown said Friday morning.
This was the first game since shooting guard Josh Richardson said the locker room lacked accountability. The team met Thursday to discuss his comments, and how it can become more accountable.
The Sixers wanted to see some improvement in that category Friday, realizing not everything would be fixed overnight.
“We played sort of an erratic type of game,” Brown said afterward. “But I liked the spirit of our group.”
The coach, who had one of his extended post-game meetings with his staff before addressing the media, pointed out the Sixers pulled within five points with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left. They had trailed by as many as 18 points.
While they kept trying to battle back, the Sixers displayed terrible body language. Their defensive effort was on par with the body language. At times, they looked more like a group of individuals than a team.
“We have to fight through,” Harris said of the body language. “Like I said, 'We have a lot of talent. But we have to figure out how to mesh our talent together and make it work for the better good.”
Asked about the body language, Brown said, “probably, they were discouraged. It was hard guarding James Harden."
Ben Simmons kept his competitive spirit, finishing with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists to go with a career-high-tying four blocks. It marked his 25th triple-double in 195 career games, making him the third-fastest player to reach the mark, behind Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.
Harris added 24 points and Embiid finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
The Rockets (24-11) weren’t exactly a good matchup for a team in desperate need of a pick-me-up win.
A lot of that had to do with Houston’s backcourt tandem of James Harden and Russell Westbrook and center Clint Capela.
Harden, the 2018 league MVP, went into the game shooting 50% or better in a career-best six straight games, averaging 38.8 points in them. Westbrook, the 2017 MVP, went in scoring 20-plus points in 11 straight games, averaging 28.5.
It was business as usual for both of them.
Harden finished with 44 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists to record a triple-double. Capela had 30 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block, while Westbrook added 20 points.
“If you look at James Harden in an isolation environment, he may be the greatest scorer in the history of our game,” Brown said. “I mean that. If you just go on math and metrics, it’s just ... him and a defender. It’s ridiculous what he does.”
Richardson and Simmons both took turns guarding Harden. The seven-time All-Star still nearly came close to finishing in double digits in the first quarter.
He had nine points on 3-of-8 shooting while playing all 12 minutes of the quarter. However, the Sixers led, 27-20, thanks to a balanced attack and poor shooting by the Rockets.
Simmons paced the Sixers with seven points, six rebounds, two assists, and a block. Houston made just 8 of 26 shots and shot 22.2% (2-for-9) on threes.
The Rockets turned things around in the second quarter, scoring 40 points on 13-for-19 shooting (68.4%). They made 3 of 7 three-pointers (42.8%). Harden led the way, scoring 14 points in the quarter to have 23 points at the half.
Capela scored 15 of his points in the first half. With those two leading the way, the Rockets built a 60-53 halftime lead.
The Sixers pulled to within two points, 62-60, early in the third quarter. But the Rockets went on to lead by as many 18 points before taking a 96-86 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Sixers were without another one of their key reserves.
James Ennis III missed the matchup against his former team because of a stomach illness. The swingman did not travel with the team to Texas.
The Sixers were also without reserve shooting guard Matisse Thybulle, who missed his sixth straight game with a right-knee sprain and bone bruise.
“We got to win, pretty much,” Harris said of getting things back on track. “It’s an easy answer, but it’s the truth. We got to figure out a way to come in and grind out a win, gets our spirits up, get our vibe back and roll from there.”
However, Brown, perhaps trying to stay positive, said he doesn’t think about the losing streak.
“I just think that you go back and keep moving,” he said. “You to identify obvious things we need to work on. We had a rough time shooting tonight.”
The Sixers made just 6 of 27 or 22.2% of their three-pointers.
“I think that," he said. "I’m believing it’s a general comment that good days will add up. I keep the boys in the boat and keep moving forward and good days will add up.
“This group we will figure it out.”