Rockets Lose to 76ers, Drop Final Tune-Up Before Playoffs

Michael Shapiro

The Rockets had two objectives entering Friday's regular-season finale vs. Philadelphia: stay healthy, and get Eric Gordon going. And despite suffering a 134-96 blowout loss to Joel Embiid and Co., Friday night can be considered a minor success considering the aforementioned criteria. 

Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni said pregame he expected his starters to play only the first half on Friday, but that plan was scrapped following a subpar opening 24 minutes. And D'Antoni's decision appeared to have paid off. Houston escaped the third quarter injury free, and a 15-3 run to start the second half provided a modicum of confidence before D'Antoni pulled his starters. If Danuel House's toe injury subsides by Tuesday, the Rockets should be at full strength sans Westbrook vs. Oklahoma City. 

Gordon seemed to benefit from the additional minutes to start the second half. He banged home two threes midway through the third quarter, and he showed impressive quickness of the bounce throughout the night. Gordon's shot still isn't quite back to form. He turned it over six times against Indiana on Wednesday. But any semblance of rhythm is an encouraging sign at this point. Gordon flashed his 2018 and 2019 playoff form in spurts on Friday. A similar performance vs. Oklahoma City could make for a quick series.

The seeding games are now complete, and the Rockets have played some of their best basketball of the season in Orlando. They outpaced Dallas' historically-efficient offense on July 31, and they've defeated both No. 1 seeds in the bubble. Friday marked the ugliest loss of the season. D'Antoni isn't concerned. After a glorified scrimmage, the Rockets enter the 2020 playoffs with their eyes firmly set on the Larry O'Brien Trophy. If Westbrook can return at some point in round one, that goal is legitimately in reach.

"It is what it is. Today didn't mean a whole lot," D'Antoni said postgame. "We'll be ready on Tuesday."

Up Next: vs. Thunder on Tuesday

The Rockets will kick off the postseason on Tuesday as they face the Thunder in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Oklahoma City won two of three over Houston in the regular season, and with Westbrook out of the lineup for at least a few contests, this series could certainly go six or seven games. Harden will need to channel his MVP form, or the Rockets are in danger of an early exit.

Tip-off for Game 1 is slated for 5:30 p.m. CT. 

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