But at times they were pretty good and held a 75-70 lead with 7 minutes, 27 seconds remaining. That's when the defensive brain cramps started popping up. Houston's Kevin Martin, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the final quarter, drained a long three-pointer on a blown defensive assignment. That seemed to jump-start the Rockets. Cardinal Dougherty and Villanova product Kyle Lowry put the game away with two basket-and-foul three-point plays in the final 2 minutes.
"Once again, we started out the game, hit our first shot then hit two of our next 17," said coach Doug Collins. "It's just mind-boggling how you go through stretches like that. We gave them 32 points in the fourth quarter. That's not going to get it done on the road.
"I thought we made two critical errors on Kevin Martin that cost us. We had him well in hand, I think he had two points going into the fourth quarter. We made a mental mistake and went under him on a handoff and he hit a three, and then he hit a long three and our whole thing was make him dribble the ball. And then Kyle Lowry made three good plays and that was the difference in the game."
Another critical aspect was that Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday, who had been the teams' biggest offensive weapon the past two games with 42 points combined, played just 22 minutes due to foul trouble.
Holiday picked up two fouls in the first quarter and had to leave the game. When he entered again in the second, he almost immediately picked up his third when he quizzically committed a clear-path foul.
"That really hurt us because I had to play Lou [Williams] too many minutes early and I don't like to go to Lou that early," Collins said. "This is the aspect we keep talking about with our guys. We're so young. He got two early fouls, we got him back in the game, we had a turnover and he took the foul. In that situation you've got to give up two points and stay on the floor. That's the constant teaching you have to do and unfortunately we're not in practice situations to do that so you have to do that in the game, and it's tough."
The team will have a full practice in Auburn Hills, Mich., on Monday night before facing the Pistons on Tuesday. Perhaps a main topic will be their shooting. The Sixers shot just 40.2 percent from the floor last night, the ninth-straight game they've been below 45 percent.
"I think they were good shots," said Williams, who finished with 17 points. "I think we all had good shots at the basket that we usually will make. For whatever reason you go through these stretches during the season where you're just not making shots. I think it's important to get off our feet for 4 days and come back strong."
Usually a late first-quarter sub, Williams gets to see what transpires at the beginning of games. Asked about his team's slow starts, he said: "It's just one of those things that happen. We've had some opportunities to get on the practice court and get some reps, guys have been working out. When it comes to the game, it's just not translating into a good offense. One of the reasons is the guys are tired, the legs are heavy or whatever, but those are just excuses."
Rookie Nikola Vucevic scored a career-high 18 points to lead the Sixers, showing an energy he hasn't had in some time. Thaddeus Young added 15, while Jodie Meeks had 14 and Andre Iguodala 11.
Lowry, whom Collins dubbed a bulldog before the game, collected 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Luis Scola led the Rockets with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Now it's time for the team to get away and try to forget about basketball for a few days, or at least forget about the recent string of losses.
"I wouldn't say it's physical fatigue, I would say it's mental fatigue," Young said of the bad run of games. "The back-to-backs, triples, doubles. The schedule has been ridiculous. This season has been crazy. We're all just looking forward to this break right now."
Former Sixer Moses Malone visited the locker room after the game . . . Lou Williams is 15 for his last 53 from the floor . . . The Sixers shot 0-for-9 from three-point range and Jodie Meeks is now three for his last 19 from there.
For more Sixers coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at www.philly.com/Sixerville.
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