There hasn’t been much to complain about for the Philadelphia 76ers since James Harden made his highly anticipated debut after the All-Star break. With Harden on the court, Philly rattled off four straight wins and scored at least 123 points in every game.
But it was a different story Saturday night.
With Harden sitting out to rest his hamstring, the 76ers mustered just 82 points in a blowout loss to the Miami Heat, and they received a harsh dose of reality in the process.
76ers look helpless in blowout loss to Heat
The NBA schedule-makers didn’t give the 76ers much of a chance against the Heat on Saturday night. The team had to fly to Miami directly after Friday’s hard-fought win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Philly and face off against the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia also decided to hold Harden out of the game to give his ailing hamstring a break, so it would’ve taken a herculean effort from the Sixers to pull off the upset. What we saw was the exact opposite.
Without Harden on the court, the Sixers were unable to adequately space the floor, and the wide-open looks they were getting in the previous four games disappeared. Joel Embiid struggled to find any offensive success with double- and triple-teams surrounding him all night.
After scoring at least 123 points in four straight games coming in, Philly managed just 82 points against the Heat in a 99-82 loss. The team shot an abysmal 34% from the field and 17% from three on 41 attempts.
The Harden effect — or in this case — the lack thereof.
Sixers receive harsh dose of reality about James Harden
We’ve caught a glimpse of just how dangerous Philadelphia can be with both Harden and Embiid on the court, but now we know how lifeless the new-look 76ers are when they’re not at full strength.
Defenses have had a tough time slowing down the Harden-Embiid duo because they can’t afford to double-team either player. There’s also so much attention paid to the pick-and-roll action that it leaves Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris wide open off the ball. When Harden isn’t on the court, though, teams can key on Embiid and make life much more difficult for this Sixers offense.
“Obviously, if all that attention is on me, it would be different if he’s out there because you gotta guard him a certain way, and that opens up a lot for whether it’s me,” Embiid told reporters after the game. “That’s just another guy that brings so much attention. It makes the game easy.”
Despite Harden’s absence, Maxey said “there are no excuses” for the team’s performance against the Heat.
“He hadn’t been with us all year. We’ve won games like this, so we just gotta go out there and get the job done no matter who’s on the court. That’s been our motto the entire year.”
Harden’s health is crucial to the 76ers’ title hopes
The 76ers are legitimate championship contenders when fully healthy, but Saturday proved they might not make it out of the first round if Harden isn’t on the court. The Eastern Conference is stacked with talent this year, so Philadelphia will need to be at 100% to have any chance of making a run to the NBA Finals.
We don’t know exactly how serious Harden’s lingering hamstring injury is. He looked perfectly fine in his four starts with the Sixers after the All-Star break, so holding him out of the lineup Saturday was most likely a precaution rather than a worrisome development.
Whatever the case may be, it’s imperative that he’s a full-go by the time playoffs roll around.