The Philadelphia 76ers are expected to have James Harden back in the lineup as they prepare to take on a Western Conference power, but one insider is issuing a stern warning about the star guard’s workload when he comes back.
Harden missed three games with a sore Achilles, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he participated in shootaround before the team’s March 27 game against the Denver Nuggets and is expected to play. Harden has dealt with a series of injuries over the course of the season, and Dave Early of SB Nation’s Liberty Ballers is warning that head coach Doc Rivers could risk his availability for the playoffs if he continues to push Harden to play big minutes.
Doc Rivers Questioned Over James Harden’s Workload
Early has already been critical of Rivers for playing Harden for 47 minutes in the team’s March 20 double-overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls, even though the guard was showing obvious signs of discomfort. Harden went on to miss the next three games while nursing his ailing Achilles, leading to his expected return on Monday.
Early warned the Sixers to take a different approach with Harden upon his return, noting that they already pushed him to play through bumps and bruises earlier in the season, leading to another absence.
“How many less games might he have missed if they’d simply pulled him as soon as he got hurt, playing things cautiously last November?” Early wrote. “Might they be in position for the two seed right now? They have the best record in the league since he returned to the lineup on Dec. 5. So what if he didn’t have to miss quite so much time?”
The Sixers are also dealing with an injury to Joel Embiid, who was expected to miss Monday’s game against the Nuggets.
Sixers Should Forget About Playoff Seeding: Insider
Early in not alone in warning the Sixers about the potential perils of giving heavy minutes to Harden in pursuit of playoff seeding. The Sixers entered Monday 2.5 games behind the Boston Celtics for second place with eight games remaining, and four games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the top overall seed.
Ky Carlin of USA Today’s Sixers Wire said Philadelphia should forget about trying to catch the Celtics, saying it’s a “far-fetched idea” that they might be able to make up that much ground with so little time remaining in the season. Boston also owns the tiebreaker with the Sixers, making the climb that much steeper.
And if the Sixers were to lose Harden for a significant stretch while pushing to catch the Celtics, it would render it all meaningless anyway, Carlin added.
“Regardless of all of that, if Harden isn’t healthy in the playoffs, they have little to no chance,” he wrote. “They need him and Joel Embiid to be at their very best in order to take on the Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs to get to the finals. Pushing Harden to play in the regular season doesn’t seem like a smart idea at this point.”