Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Sounds off on the James Harden Effect

James Harden Sixers

Getty Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden handles the ball during a playoff bout with the Toronto Raptors.

After completing the gentleman’s sweep in what was essentially a warm-up exercise against Atlanta Hawks, the Miami Heat are moving on to bigger and badder things in Round 2 of postseason play with the fourth-seeded Philadelphia Sixers.

The South Beach crew acquitted itself relatively well against the Sixers during the regular season, splitting the series 2-2. That said, the upcoming matchup figures to be a different beast entirely. Not only due to a major injury (more on that later) or the intensity of the playoffs, but also because of a certain blockbuster addition to Philly’s mix.

James Harden, who came to the Sixers ahead of the trade deadline in exchange for Ben Simmons, didn’t play in either of his club’s games against the Heat after the big move. He’ll be there in all his bearded glory for Game 1, though, and the Sixers will be counting on him to carry the load.

For his part, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes that Harden presents a unique challenge for his team.

Coach Spo Raves About the Beard

James Harden DUNKED! – Zach Lowe on what was different with 76ers in Game 6 | NBA TodayThe NBA Today panel react to the Philadelphia 76ers' Game 6 win over the Toronto Raptors and if they have silenced their critics. ✔️Subscribe to ESPN+ espnplus.com/youtube ✔️ Get the ESPN App: espn.com/espn/apps/espn ✔️Subscribe to ESPN on YouTube: es.pn/SUBSCRIBEtoYOUTUBE ✔️ Subscribe to NBA on ESPN on YouTube: bit.ly/SUBSCRIBEtoNBAonESPN ✔️ Watch ESPN on YouTube TV: es.pn/YouTubeTV2022-04-29T19:53:07Z

After practice on Friday, Spoelstra addressed the Harden situation, making plain the fact that his presence has had a transformative effect on Doc Rivers’ team.

“He definitely changes the dynamic,” the Heat play-caller said, via ESPN.

Little did Spo know that the dynamic would change further with the news that Embiid is out indefinitely after suffering a right orbital fracture during Pilly’s series-clinching win over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday. With or without the big man, though, Harden will still be there making life miserable for Miami.

“You’re talking about an MVP player, a guy who can manipulate the game,” Spoelstra added. “He can hurt you whether he’s scoring or whether he’s assisting, or whether he’s just manipulating the defense.”

In 21 games with the Sixers to close out the regular season, Harden averaged 21.0 points, 10.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds per contest. While his shooting numbers from the field and three-point range continue to be down, Harden’s ability to get to the line and rack up free throws remains a major problem.

“You have to do things with great discipline, great focus, but you don’t want to back off on your aggressiveness, and that’s that dance that we’ll be wrestling with this series.”

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Heat Trying to Get Healthy

The Heat still have the weekend to rest and prepare for Philly before Game 1 on Monday night and it’s a good thing, too. Multiple players were held out of Friday’s practice with bumps, bruises and even sickness.

Specifically, Jimmy Butler (right knee soreness), Kyle Lowry (hamstring), PJ Tucker (calf), Tyler Herro (non-COVID-19 illness) and Caleb Martin (ankle) were watching from the sidelines. However, Miami’s star center, Bam Adebayo believes Butler and Lowry — both of whom missed games during the first round — will go good to go as the series tips off.

“I’m expecting them to just get healthy day by day, honestly,” Adebayo said. “If they can go, they can go. If they’re not, we got to go out there regardless. You can’t push back Game 1.”


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