James Harden was simply too good.
Nothing the 76ers tried to do to defend him worked, and they ultimately were doomed by it. Harden finished with 51 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds to lead the Houston Rockets to a 123-118 victory over the Sixers on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
"It's damn near impossible," Sixers point guard T.J. McConnell said of trying stop Harden. "He's so good at getting fouled, you're afraid to press up on him. And then when you do, he blows right by you.
"He's the MVP of the league. That's an MVP-type performance."
His performance overshadowed that of Sixers rookie Joel Embiid, who finished with 32 points.
The Sixers (17-28) saw their two-game winning streak end in the process. It was just their fourth loss in 14 games. Meanwhile, the Rockets (35-15) snapped a two-game skid and beat the Sixers for the seventh straight time.
For Harden, this marked his 14th triple-double of the season. It was the sixth time he scored 40 or more points. The five-time all-star also became the first player in NBA history with multiple 50-point triple-doubles in the same season. He had 53 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds in a victory over the New York Knicks on Dec. 31.
On Friday, 36 of the point guard's points came in the second half. He shot 16 of 28 for the game and made 13 of 14 foul shots.
"Just figuring out how they were guarding us and attacking it," he said of what clicked after intermission. "Tonight was me just scoring the basketball and being aggressive. They were doing a really good job of not leaving our shooters and I had to make plays."
Meanwhile, Embiid had seven rebounds, four assists, three steals in two blocks and five turnovers to go with his team-high points in 28 minutes, 10 seconds.
As a result, he became the first player to post his points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks' totals in 29 or fewer minutes since Dallas Maverick Mark Aguirre on Dec. 5, 1987, Back then, Aguirre finished with 35 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five steals, and two blocks against the Denver Nuggets.
The 7-foot-2, 270-pound Embiid had missed the previous two games with a left knee bruise.
He said his conditioning was bad and that he didn't feel in shape.
"My knee is a little bit sore," he said. "It was a little bit sore after [the game]. But that's what to be expected like the doctor told me.
"It's a bone bruise. It supposed to take two or three weeks to heal. I only missed a week." Embiid will not travel with the team to Chicago for Sunday's game.
As usual, the 22-year-old was serenaded to chants of "M-V-P" and "Trust the Process" while at the foul line.
He looked every bit of someone who should be playing in the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 19 in New Orleans.
Embiid opened the game with a dunk over Nene to electrify the crowd. The runaway rookie-of-the-year candidate scored seven of the Sixers' first nine points.
He entered the game averaging 19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.47 blocks. As a result, he was the first player since Shaquille O'Neal with the Orlando Magic in the 1992-93 season to have totals that high through his first 30 career games.
He's using the all-star snub as motivation.
"I thought I deserved it," Embiid said. "Not that I care about my stats but that was one of the points that could have been proven. I think the thing was the minutes [restriction], which I didn't understand. If you average that many points in 24-25 minutes, that should be the case.
"Like I said, I am disappointed but happy for those guys [selected]."
There's a thought that Embiid didn't get picked due to his limited action on the floor. He has missed 13 games. Two were because of his knee injury. He was sidelined one game with inflammation of his right elbow and held out another for rest. But the others were scheduled off days in back-to-back situations.
The third overall pick of the 2014 draft sat out the previous two seasons after surgeries to repair his navicular bone. Not having Embiid play on back-to-back nights lessens the stress on the foot. And the Cameroonian has been limited to playing 28 minutes when he does play.
Sixers coach Brett Brown doesn't think Embiid's limited minutes should have factored into his being an all-star.
"What we see when he actually plays, there is zero doubt that he is an NBA all-star," Brown said. "There is none in my mind. His time will come in multiples."
He realizes that some coaches haven't seen what they see due to Embiid's limited action.
"But what we see, confirms categorically he is an NBA all-star," Brown said.
Embiid just couldn't pull out a victory on this night. With his team down five, he had his three-point attempt blocked with 16 seconds left. The Rockets got the ball and Trevor Ariza went to the foul line after being fouled with 15.7 seconds remaining.
He converted both to give the Rockets a 119-112 cushion.
Note. The Sixers' and Rockets' coaching staffs wore bow ties to honor Michael Goldberg, the executive director of the NBA coaches association. Goldberg, who wore bow ties, died last week. . . . Recording artist Meek Mill and comedian/ movie star Kevin Hart and Sixers great Allen Iverson were in attendance.