It's all the Sixers have talked about in recent weeks: finishing strong, not watching the standings, and solidifying that playoff spot as soon as possible.
For the Rockets, a loss makes snagging the Western Conference's final playoff berth just a little more unlikely.
The Sixers improved to 39-36. The Rockets have the same record.
At one point in the third quarter, the Rockets built a 76-70 lead. That advantage slowly drained as the third quarter turned into the fourth. And as the fourth quarter ticked onward, it was the Sixers who managed to push ahead.
On a transition putback by Andres Nocioni, the Sixers took a 96-88 lead with 6 minutes, 3 seconds remaining. Houston coach Rick Adelman immediately called a timeout, but the Sixers were already too far ahead.
Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday finished the game with 24 points, scoring 13 in the first half. Reserves Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams had a big impact, as they have all season, combining for 37 points. For the Rockets, Kyle Lowry scored 19 points.
For the first few minutes of the game, it seemed the Rockets would have difficulty scoring. The Sixers raced toward their hoop and kept dropping the ball through, piling up a few baskets while the Rockets kept missing, unable to get some points on the board.
Then it all changed.
After not scoring for the first 2:16 of the game, trailing by 9-0, Houston ended the first quarter with 33 points. It was as if this slow start was merely the final barrier before the dam broke, because as soon as it did the Rockets dropped three-pointers (three from Lowry and one each from Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger) and dipped inside for points in the paint.
Sixers coach Doug Collins had cautioned before the game that the Rockets could, in any game, hang 60 points on the scoreboard in one half. Houston didn't quite reach that mark in this game, but it scored enough to jog to the locker room with a 55-52 halftime lead.
It was nothing the Sixers couldn't overcome with a little more second-half defense, but it was a remarkable result considering that in the first half the Sixers shot 53.5 percent from the floor and committed only five turnovers.
Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DeepSixer3, and read her blog, Deep Sixer, on Philly.com.