Sixers-Rockets 5 Things: Big-time Test for Sixers' Improving Defense

The Sixers (17-27) host the Houston Rockets (34-15) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night (8 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

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1. You won't like him when he's angry?
Despite all of the campaigning and support, Sixers center Joel Embiid will not be appearing in the NBA All-Star Game. The rookie sensation's name was omitted when the reserves were announced on Thursday night.

Embiid and his backers took to Twitter to voice their displeasure (see story), but what's done is done.

Now the question becomes how will Embiid respond to the snub? There are countless stories of players who have used the perceived slight as motivation for the remainder of the season. Hell, Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who was left out of the league's showcase yet again, has made a career out of it.

Expect Embiid to come out fired up on Friday after being passed over for the ASG and missing the last two games. With Houston boasting a mediocre defensive rating (106.0 - 18th in the league), look for the big man to try to improve on his 19.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game averages.

2. Bearded assassin
The Rockets may not be anything special defensively, but their James Harden-led offense is as potent as you're going to find.

Houston ranks second in the NBA in scoring (114.3 points per game) and third (111.8) in offensive rating behind Harden's brilliance. The veteran guard has averaged 28.6 points, a career-high 11.6 assists and 8.2 rebounds a night to put him in the MVP conversation.

Containing Harden will certainly be a challenge for the Sixers, one they failed miserably to conquer in the season's first meeting. Harden scored 23 of his 33 points during the first quarter in the Rockets' 115-88 win over the Sixers back on Nov. 14.

3. Hello again
A major reason Harden is enjoying career year is he is playing under the guidance of former Sixers associate head coach Mike D'Antoni.

D'Antoni's decision to move Harden to point guard and the installment of his "Seven Seconds or Less" offense have the Rockets reaching new heights. They have a 34-15 record and sit third in the rugged Western Conference, which should have D'Antoni near the top of Coach of the Year lists.

In the first matchup, D'Antoni's scheme and personnel were entirely too much for the Sixers to handle. It will be interesting to see how former colleague Brett Brown counters on Friday night.

4. Injuries
Embiid (knee) and Jahlil Okafor (knee) are game-time decisions. Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Eric Gordon (back) is a game-time decision for the Rockets.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost six straight to the Rockets.

• The Sixers were outscored 38-26 in the first quarter of the previous meeting en route to the 27-point defeat.

• Former Rockets swingman Robert Covington has averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in three games against Houston.

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