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December 29, 2023

Instant observations: Tyrese Maxey's 42 points lead Sixers in win over Rockets

Tyrese Maxey put together a masterpiece, as the Sixers knocked off the Houston Rockets on the road without Joel Embiid.

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Tyrese-Maxey-Sixers-Rockets-12.29.23-NBA.jpg Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Tyrese Maxey put in another stellar performance against the Rockets Friday night.

Fresh off their first win of the season without Joel Embiid, the Sixers looked to take their second win in a row when they traveled to Houston for a Friday night matchup against the young Rockets. Here is what jumped out from their 131-127 win...

Injury updates

Joel Embiid and Nic Batum each missed their third consecutive games in this one, as Embiid deals with an ankle injury and Batum nurses a hamstring ailment. Additionally, KJ Martin – who spent the last three seasons as a member of the Rockets – was out for this game due to an illness that escalated as tip-off neared.

According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Batum is expected to play Saturday night in the second half of the team's road back-to-back against the Chicago Bulls, while Embiid will miss the contest. 

Embiid, who missed three games total prior to sustaining this injury, will miss at least four games since hurting his ankle against the Toronto Raptors on Dec. 22. The earliest he could return is now Jan. 2, when the Sixers host the Bulls in Philadelphia.

Evaluating a potential trade partner

The Rockets had an excellent start to the season, far surpassing the league's expectations of them thanks to an elite defense. But they have been on a bit of a skid recently, and with a few different logjams on their roster, one would expect them to be active at the trade deadline. 

If they continue to sink in the standings, they could make some of their veteran pieces available in an attempt to create minutes for their many young players.

Jae'Sean Tate, who started in this one in place of the injured Dillon Brooks, is a fascinating athletic wing who fits the bill of a player Nick Nurse might like to use. Jeff Green, also a starter Friday is a rock-solid veteran who brings value on and off the court these days. Reggie Bullock, a long-time rumored Sixers trade target, would help the Sixers improve their three-point shooting. If the Sixers were to seek a ball-handling guard, Aaron Holiday could be a piece they look at.

The Rockets very well may hang onto their pieces and try to win as many games as they can after a handful of years in the cellar. But if they fail to position themselves to make the playoffs in the next month or so, they could be sellers.

Nick Nurse makes a welcomed change

The Sixers head coach has been tasked with making some difficult decisions of late, particularly when it comes to his wing rotation. Batum and Kelly Oubre Jr. are locks to play, but then he must decide which of Robert Covington, Marcus Morris Sr., Martin and Danuel House Jr. play and which ones sit. 

Of late, Covington has been on the outskirts of the rotation, a puzzling choice given his continued strong minutes on the defensive end. Since his return to Philadelphia he has been more than competent coming off the bench, and should be considered an important part of the team's second unit.

This change was a wise one by Nurse, who simply has not seen enough from House to keep him as a rotation mainstay. And while Martin is athletic and Morris is experienced, neither is as well-rounded as Covington. Covington should not be the only one of the bunch to play, but he should continue to be the first one to see the floor.

Sixers dominated on the glass

The Sixers' defense was not particularly poor early on in this one aside from allowing more threes than they would like to. However, they were pummeled by the Rockets on the offensive glass. Rockets forward Tari Eason pulled nine rebounds – five of them being offensive – off the bench, in the first half alone.

Embiid's absence is obvious on the offensive end, and it's not hard to see if on the defensive end of the floor as well. But on the glass, the Sixers are liable to be punished by teams like Houston with bigger and stronger front lines. The Sixers continually use smaller alternatives – which does occasionally have its perks. But they are susceptible to pitfalls like this.

Tyrese Maxey going downhill and drawing fouls

Maxey entered this contest with six games on the season in which he has taken at least eight free throw attempts. Maxey went 8-8 from the charity stripe in the first half of this one alone. Maxey had the perfect attitude with Embiid out: attack the defense relentlessly, put them on their heels, and get to the rim time and time again. He was outstanding all night long.

Maxey finished with 42 points, the second-most he has put up in a single game all season – only trailing his 50-point masterpiece in November.

Credit not just Maxey for playing with the right mindset, but also the Sixers' coaching staff for continuing to instill confidence in their young star guard.

MORE: Tyrese Maxey should be a lock for the NBA All-Star Game