It shouldn't come as a surprise that James Harden's highest-scoring effort of the season came against the woeful Philadelphia 76ers.
The NBA's second-leading scorer is poised for another big performance as the Houston Rockets look to send the 76ers to a 13th straight loss Wednesday night.
Harden has averaged 34.7 points over his last six meetings with Philadelphia, and Houston (31-32) has won four straight and five of those games. The guard practically beat the 76ers on his own Nov. 27, pouring in 50 points with nine rebounds and eight assists in a 116-114 victory. He was one point short of matching his career high from an April 1 win over Sacramento.
Harden looks capable of making another run at that personal record, averaging 35.2 points over the last 11 games. He scored 40 and added 14 assists in a 113-107 win at Toronto on Sunday, the fourth time this season he's had at least 40 and 10. The rest of the league has four such games combined.
Harden will now try to capitalize on the league-worst 76ers (8-55), who are surrendering an average of 115.0 points during their 12-game skid. They haven't held a team under 100 points since a 98-92 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 8 - the first defeat of this stretch.
While Harden's 29.0 points per game rank only behind Golden State's Stephen Curry (30.7), he's more concerned with helping the Rockets solidify a fourth straight playoff berth. They're eighth in the Western Conference.
"From here on out there's 20 games left (19 actually), so each and every game counts, so we've got to find a way to come away with wins," Harden said.
Finishing sixth would avoid a first-round matchup with the Warriors or San Antonio, but coach J.B. Bickerstaff is confident in his team and just wants to qualify.
"In a seven-game series, the group that we have, the talent that we have, the only thing that matters is winning," Bickerstaff said. "There's no doubt of what we're capable of, we've just got to get ourselves to that spot and that's been a struggle."
The entire season has been a struggle for the Sixers, who are coming off Sunday's 103-98 loss at Miami in the back end of a home-and-home set. They led by two with 4:39 remaining but were outscored 18-11 the rest of the way.
Ish Smith had 21 points, giving him that as an average while making 51.6 percent from the floor and 8 of 15 3-pointers over the last four games.
Jahlil Okafor will miss a fifth straight game with shin and knee injuries, though Nerlens Noel is expected back after a knee injury sidelined him for the last two.
"I see it with Nerlens, I see it with my young guys," coach Brett Brown told the 76ers' official website. "It's a long season for 19- and 20-year-olds. We're trying to be wise with them and help them get through it."
A knee injury prevented Noel from facing the Rockets earlier this season. Robert Covington had 28 points with eight steals, seven boards and five assists in that meeting, while Isaiah Canaan chipped in with 23 points.