James Harden sat out the regular-season finale with what was termed “left hamstring injury recovery.” It’s an injury that has plagued the All-Star guard dating back to last year.
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers addressed those injury concerns on Sunday, specifically Harden’s hamstring and conditioning. He admitted there are certain areas where Harden can improve, but he doesn’t feel like the hamstring is limiting him at all.
“No [concerns]. Yeah, a little bit. But he’s in a good place, I can say that,” Rivers said when asked about Harden. “Conditioning wise he’s in a good place. You know we got a week to get that a little bit better. Hamstring, from what everything they tell me, is in a very good place, so I think that’s the biggest concern. But I don’t have much going by our staff, they feel pretty good about it.”
Some believe the hamstring injury has impacted Harden’s game since he looks slower when bringing the ball up. And less explosive when he’s trying to beat his defender in isolation.
“Well, we’ll work on it,” Rivers said of Harden’s explosiveness. “I think him getting more comfortable helps that a little bit, so I think there are a lot of things at play there.”
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Sixers Preparing to Face Toronto Raptors
The Sixers will host the Toronto Raptors at 6 p.m. on Saturday (April 16) in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. The team basically has a week to prepare which is an unusually long time in the NBA. Rivers plans to let his guys rest and heal their bodies in the beginning of the week, then they’ll dive into the game film on Tuesday.
“That’s a lot of time, I actually think we need it,” Rivers said. “Nothing tomorrow [April 11] obviously and not a lot on Tuesday [April 12] but we’ll do a lot of film work on Tuesday just to get that out of the way and we’ll start working.”
Rivers added that he can treat the extra time in the gym as a “training camp atmosphere.” They’ll work on their fundamentals, specifically crashing the defensive glass and “continued pace” on offense. Transition defense is another big area that needs to improve.
“We just have to be a better rebounding team,” Rivers said. “No matter who we play, that’s going to be a factor, extra shots for the other teams, transition D … so those two things and then offensively just our pace. Continued pace. And I still think people think pace means running, that’s not what I mean. I mean the movement of the ball and of people. If we can get that down, I’ll feel pretty good.”
Not Recreating the Wheel, Building Chemistry
Harden has only been in Philly for two months while suiting up in 21 games for the Sixers. He and his teammates are still building chemistry, together, on the fly. Rivers thinks the next few days present the perfect opportunity to keep growing their trust in one another.
“I think we need it as much as anyone,” Rivers said of the extra practice time. “Again, we made a big trade midseason so we’re one of the few teams — us and Brooklyn are going into [the playoffs] without having training camp with their best players — so this gives us kind of a training camp atmosphere, obviously you’re not going as hard as you would in training camp. But it does give us an opportunity to get some continuity, to be able to run into the game sets, to get some execution. This is a big week for us.”
The Sixers won’t be adding too many new wrinkles to the offense, though. It’s more of a chance for them to install a few new things and fine-tune what they do best. Which is feeding Joel Embiid in the paint. And running the pick-and-roll game with Harden.
“Yeah, you always install something but nothing big,” Rivers said. “We’re not going to recreate the wheel at this point in the season.”