HOUSTON — This was definitely a game the 76ers might want to quickly forget.
Even watching the game film of Friday night’s 107-91 setback to the Houston Rockets could be like pulling teeth.
All the Sixers need to remember is that the Rockets continued to have their way against them at the Toyota Center on Friday night. There’s no need to relive what they experienced in front a sellout crowd of 18,055 and an ESPN nationally televised audience.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said the team’s spirit was still high after the setback. Some of the players echoed the coach. Not Ben Simmons, though. The All-Star point guard wasn’t trying to sugarcoat things.
“No, we’re pissed off that we lost,” he said.
So what if this wasn’t quite their night?
“Defense, offense ... energy,” Simmons said. “I’m not sure why. It starts with energy.”
James Harden finished with a game-high 31 points while shooting 11-for-22. As a unit, the Rockets (40-25) shot 49.4 percent from the field and made 13 of 41 of three-pointers in what was their seventh-straight victory.
Meanwhile, the Sixers (41-25) shot 36.8 percent from the field and a season-low three treys in 26 attempts.
“We kind of let our offense dictate our defense tonight,” Tobias Harris said. “It should be the other way around. We just got to grow from this one and keep pushing it.”
Harris led the way with 22 points. He, however, was a game-low minus-20 on the night. Jimmy Butler added 19 points and 9 rebounds, while Simmons had 15 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds.
The Sixers have lost two straight games and three of their last four. They’ll look to bounce back during Sunday’s much-anticipated contest against the Indiana Pacers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Pacers (42-24) are in third place, a game ahead of the fourth-place Sixers in the Eastern Conference standings with 16 games remaining.
By virtue of holding a 2-1 series advantage, a win Sunday would give the Sixers the tiebreaker assuming both team finish the season with identical records.
The only intrigue on Friday night involved Harden’s health.
The reigning league MVP appeared to injure his right wrist after falling on a missed layup attempt with 4 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Harden went to the locker room for what appeared to be additional taping to his wrist. He reentered the game with 2:49 before intermission. Harden had precautionary x-rays after the game.
Without Joel Embiid, their franchise player, this was a tough matchup for the Sixers.
The two-time All-Star center missed his eighth consecutive game because of tendinitis in his left knee. Sixers coach Brett Brown said he didn’t have a timetable for his return. This also mark the fifth straight game that Sixers backup center Boban Marjanovic missed due to a bone bruise and mild sprain in his right knee. Marjanovic said he hopes to return to action on Sunday.
'We are just buying time," Brown said. “Right now, I feel like we are just buying time and trying to get to the new guys more familiar in not really that long of a window of opportunity.”
The Sixers, however, only have 16 games remaining in the regular season to do that. Embiid and the new players, especially Harris, will have to learn how to play together when Embiid returns. Harris played in his 12th game as a Sixer on Friday — the last eight without Embiid.
Marjanovic, Mike Scott, James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons are the players the Sixers acquired at the trade deadline.
Brown said things are stressful for him in regards to Embiid missing valuable time with his new teammates.
“I’m convinced that if you have your health and some type of rhythm of playing, you can navigate playoff basketball,” the coach said. "In a perfect world, you’d have him here. You try to climb up and grab that third seed. You try to do all those things of course.
“But in the event, Joel’s healthy doesn’t come back as quickly as we had wished, it’s still about the things I just said. Are you playing good basketball? Is the rest of the team healthy?”
Brown knows that the Sixers are going to have big games no matter who’s available. They hope to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conference get home-court edge. They would love to get the third seed, which would enable them to avoid a four-five matchup against the Boston Celtics in the opening round.
Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Sixers are 3-21 against the Celtics (40-26), including and Eastern Conference semifinals series setback in May.
Friday’s contest was a homecoming for Butler and reserves Simmons and Ennis.
Butler was born in Houston and grew up in nearby Tomball. Simmons is also a Houston native. He was a local standout at M.B. Smiley High School. He spent a year at two junior colleges before being a standout at the University of Houston.
Ennis is from California. However, he signed a free-agent deal with the Rockets back last July 13. The Sixers acquired him in a trade on Feb. 7.
His old team jumped out to a 37-21 advantage after one quarter. Harden had 16 of those points on 4-for-10 shooting and going 6 of 7 from the foul line. The Rockets were getting anything they wanted. It was just a matter of shots falling.
They made 13-of-23 shots in the first quarter — including going 5-of-11 (45.5 percent) on three-pointers.
Harris (10) and Butler (7) combined to score all but four of the Sixers’ first-quarter points. Houston extended its lead to 21 points with 6:10 left in the half.
“They did a good job of setting the tone early,” Butler said.
In addition to getting where they wanted to be, Butler mentioned how the Rockets outhustled them to loose balls.
“Obviously, they made shots,” he said. “Got some easy ones in transition. I think for the most part, we dug ourselves a hole we couldn’t get out of.”