Fans set for thriller in Philadelphia as Rockets face Sixers

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The story around this midweek game between the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers will likely be the unfolding drama surrounding the injury to the Sixers top rookie, Markelle Fultz. The number one pick of the 2017 Draft Class has not played like the top prospect he is, with his shooting style under scrutiny. Now, it has emerged that Fultz has issues with his shoulder, and fluid has been injected into the area. For many Sixers fans, it looks like a case of deja-vu: another top rated rookie with injury issues.

The good part of the story will be that the last two rookies that arrived in Philly and sat out the first season have come good. While Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons didn’t have a ‘rookie season’ until their second year; Fultz has seen NBA action. Plus, they have both been massive for the franchise when they finally got on the floor. And both Embiid and Simmons will be key performers for the Sixers when they host the Rockets early Thursday morning.

Embiid missed being named Rookie of the Year last season because of the limited number of minutes and games he played This rendered his rookies-best 20.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game and 2.5 blocks per game average, irrelevant. He has started three of the four games the Sixers have played this season, and is leading them in scoring and rebounds with an average of 19.7ppg and 12.0rpg which he is returning in 27.7 minutes, a much better on-court time than the 25.4 minutes per game average he logged in 31 starts last season. But while Embiid has been productive on the floor, he has also been vocal off it.

Last season, he was constantly in the news because of his relentless pursuit of music superstar, Rihanna, on social media. This season, Embiid has started another campaign. This time, he has opposing centers in his sights. After the game against the Miami Heat, Embiid went after Hassan Whiteside, insisting the North Carolina native ‘cannot guard’ him. Then he called out Andre Drummond after the Sixers victory against Detroit, insisting the Pistons center ‘doesn’t play any defense’.

The story has not been the same for his teammate, Jahlil Okafor. The Nigerian-American logged many DNP’s (did not play) last season, as Embiid floated in and out of the team. The story is unfolding the same way this season. Okafor has played only once; in the loss against Toronto, that Embiid sat out. Okafor averaged 11.8ppg and 4.8rpg last season. Mostly coming off the bench. And he tallied 10 points and nine rebounds in the loss against the Raptors.

The Houston Rockets also have a player of African origin with limited playing time, Chinanu Onuaku. The 2nd year center played five games last season, starting only once. He is yet to suit up for the Rockets this season, and may not see action against Sixers.

Angolan/Congolese-Swiss center Clint Capela on the other hand, is reflecting his four-year NBA experience with the early numbers he is posting. Although his average minutes are down to 23.0 per game from the 23.9 of last season, his field goal attempts have upped from 8.7 to 9.8, and his field goal percentage has improved from 64.3 to 71.8, translating into a higher 15.3ppg (up from the 12.6ppg of last season). He also leads the Rockets in rebounds with 9.3rpg, while his career-high in rebounds went up to 17, which he recorded against Sacramento. The odds are that Capela will likely get less touches when Chris Paul returns from injury, but for now, he remains an integral part of the Rockets at both ends of the floor.

Cameroonian Luc Mbah a Moute was brought to Houston to help cover any exposure in defence, but ‘The Prince’ opened the season with a 14-point burst in the win in Golden State and is purring along nicely, averaging 8.0ppg in four games so far. Should he end the season that way, it would be his best scoring return since he posted a 9.9ppg average in 2014-15 season, while at Philadelphia.

While the Sixers will do well to be wary of the danger James Harden (26.3ppg, 8.5apg) and Eric Gordon (23.5ppg) both pose to their defence, they are allowing 109.0ppg, 20th in the League; they will hope Ben Simmons (17.0ppg, 10.8rpg and 7.0apg) will pose some difficulty for the Rockets with his size, passing and the understanding he is developing with Embiid.

 

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