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Prior to embarking on a three-game road trip that has thus far produced losses in Cleveland and Memphis, the Philadelphia 76ers appeared to have concocted a winning formula despite their rotation lacking the starting backcourt of James Harden and Tyrese Maxey.

The 76ers had won seven of nine games before registering a 28-point loss to the Cavaliers and a 117-109 setback against the Grizzlies on Friday. Philadelphia will conclude the trip on Monday against the Houston Rockets, eyeing a return to the win column despite those who are missing.

“I don’t want to use that as an excuse. We’ve got to find a way to win,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “We know guys are out but I’m never going to give us that, I’m just not. I refuse to.

“We definitely missed some ball-handling, you could see that. But we knew that (going in). We just have to deal with it.”

The 76ers fell to 8-6 without Harden (foot) but are optimistic that he could return against the Rockets, for whom he averaged 29.6 points and 7.7 assists over eight-plus seasons and 621 games. Harden has averaged 22 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists in nine games this season.

After playing nine games over a span of two weeks, the 76ers are hoping to parlay the current two-day break between contests into an opportunity to get their feet back underneath them as they approach a lengthy homestand.

“We have to win these games,” Rivers said of a stretch of seven consecutive home games following the tilt in Houston. “No excuses.”

Like Philadelphia, the Rockets have a favorable span of home games upcoming. The matchup against the 76ers is the first of eight home games in a nine-game span, including seven in succession following a short jaunt to San Antonio to face the Spurs on Thursday. The Rockets completed a four-game road trip on Saturday with a 120-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the second half of a back-to-back that included a comeback victory over the Phoenix Suns.

For Houston, it’s become a troubling pattern: All four games of the road trip featured the Rockets falling into double-digit deficits early, with the win against the Suns the only game that featured a completed rally. The Rockets battled uphill earlier in the week in consecutive losses against the Denver Nuggets and dug a sizable hole in San Francisco only to battle back in vain.

At this stage, the Rockets are attempting to take everything as a learning experience.

“We knew going in that it was going to be a tough back-to-back and we also knew they just came off a back-to-back also so we didn’t want to have that be an excuse,” Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. said. “We wanted to use our youth (but) even with us being young they’ve been together for so long that they’re hard to guard, make or miss. We love playing against the Warriors because we learn a lot.”

–Field Level Media