NOEL’S RETURN BUT SIXERS’ SLIDE TO OBLIVION CONTINUES

By Mary Cunningham

The Sixers got Nerlens Noel back from injury last night but it wasn’t enough to beat James Harden, Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets at the Wells.

Harden scored 29 points, Howard had 21 points and 18 rebounds, and the Rockets beat the Sixers 118-104.

Ish Smith scored 21 points and Noel and Robert Covington had 17 points apiece for the Sixers (8-56), who lost their 13th straight despite a big fourth-quarter rally.

Harden, who poured in 50 points in Houston’s only other meeting with Philly this season, shot just 8 for 26 from the field and was held to five points on only one field goal through the first 1 1/2 quarters. But the NBA’s second-leading scorer finished with nine rebounds and eight assists while shooting 13 for 13 from the free throw line.

Trailing by 16 early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers went on a 13-0 run to pull within 95-92 with 8:08 left. Smith had nine points and an assist during the stretch, beginning it with a 3-pointer and ending it with a pull-up jumper over Harden that got the crowd on its feet.

A floater in the lane from Smith trimmed Houston’s lead to 105-103 with 4:02 left, before Terry drilled back-to-back 3-pointers – getting fouled on the second and hitting the ensuing free throw – to put Houston ahead 112-103 with 2:14 left and seal the victory.

After the Rockets fell behind by nine early in the second quarter, K.J. McDaniels helped Houston take a 61-52 lead into halftime by finishing a sensational no-look lob from Harden and punctuating the first half with an acrobatic follow dunk in the final seconds.

He had 10 points in the first half after scoring a total of 30 all season coming into the game, before finishing with 12.

”It brought back flashbacks,” said McDaniels, who was drafted by the Sixers in 2014 before getting dealt to the Rockets during his productive rookie season. ”This is where it all started. I’m just happy Coach gave me the opportunity to go out and play.”

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