HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets were still feeling the effects of their Wednesday game in Mexico City on Friday night.
And it showed.
But they did just enough to pull out an 88-87 victory over the winless Philadelphia 76ers.
"We had to grind this one out," Dwight Howard said. "Coming back from Mexico City with the altitude and all that stuff I think we had a little hangover. But we're not going to make any excuses."
James Harden scored 35 points, including an off-balance layup with 9 seconds left, to lead Houston to the win. He made 14 of 16 free throws.
"We were not good," coach Kevin McHale said. "Thank goodness James got to the line and attacked."
The Sixers led by one point before Michael Carter-Williams bounced the ball off his foot and out of bounds to give Houston the ball. Harden powered through the lane to hit the game-winner.
Philadelphia had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but Carter-Williams missed a jump shot.
Tony Wroten scored 19 for the Sixers, who led for most of the game after an embarrassing 53-point loss to Dallas on Thursday night.
"I think it's a tremendous reflection of what they can be," coach Brett Brown said. "I think it's a tremendous sign of not feeling sorry for ourselves and then coming back with fight."
The Sixers remained the NBA's only winless team, dropping to 0-9 for their worst start since opening the 1972-73 season with 15 consecutive losses.
Henry Sims blocked a shot by Harden and Wroten hit a 3-pointer at the other end to give Philadelphia an 87-84 lead with 51 seconds left.
Howard got an offensive foul but Harden stole the ball right back and was fouled by Carter-Williams before Brown received a technical foul. Harden missed the technical foul shot but made the next two free throw shots before the late turnover by Carter-Williams.
Carter-Williams had 13 points and five assists and Sims had 14 points.
Howard scored 21 points with 16 rebounds and seven blocks and Trevor Ariza had 13 points for the Rockets.
The Sixers led by as many as 13 points and were up by five at the start of the fourth.
Houston scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to tie it and the teams remained within three points for the first 5 minutes of the period. A six-point spurt by Houston, with five points from Ariza, extended the Rockets lead to 79-72 with about 5 minutes left.
Carter-Williams scored five quick points after that to cut the lead to two points.
The Rockets had a 3-point lead with about 4 minutes left in the third quarter when the Sixers went on a 12-2 run, which was capped by five straight points from Carter-Williams, that gave Philadelphia a 68-61 lead late in the third.
A night after falling behind by 28 points in the first quarter of the loss to the Mavericks, the Sixers shot 60 percent in the opening frame and led 28-19 entering the second quarter against Houston.
EXPECTATIONS FOR NOEL: Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft, played in his second game after missing the previous two with a sprained ankle. Now that Noel, who missed all of last season recovering from ACL surgery, has a few games under his belt, what does Brown want to see from him?
"To provide a reckless, kamikaze energy, where he is a shot blocker, he is a rim runner, he is a chest bumper," Brown said. "He is passionate ... he is just energy in an athlete right now. That hopefully will be refined in the upcoming years (but) let's just take what he currently is and maximize it."
He had eight points, six rebounds and a block on Friday.
Sixers: Carter-Williams, last year's Rookie of the Year, didn't start in his second game back after May surgery on the labrum in his right shoulder. ... It was the seventh straight game with at least seven 3-pointers for the Sixers, which is the longest streak in franchise history.
Rockets: The Rockets were without point guard Patrick Beverley (hamstring) and forward Terrence Jones (bruised leg) again on Friday. McHale said he expects Beverley to return "much sooner" than Jones. ... Houston made just seven 3-pointers to break a franchise-record streak of nine straight games with at least 10 3-pointers dating back to last year.
Sixers: At San Antonio on Monday.
Rockets: At Oklahoma City on Saturday.