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James Harden you ARE a 76er!!! Oh right, and the Sixers host the Thunder

Amid all of the Bearded hoopla, we almost forgot the season doesn’t stop for this trade.

T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam Photo by Mark J. Terrill/Pool/Getty Images

With the rabid case of blockbuster trade fever so many fans have, we almost forgot there is a real basketball game to be played. Can’t they just take a pause through the All-Star break to let everyone in Philly have a moment? Can’t they let everyone process the end of the Ben Simmons trade, stalemate, saga, game of chicken, game of poker (or whatever else we called this one zillion times since June)?

Extreme Zumoff voice: James Harden, you are a 76er!

(Fun fact: James Harden dropped 33, 11, and 12 on LeBron James and the Lakers just 17 days ago).

Seriously though, if the Sixers had had a random GM they probably would have wound up with a much worse return here. Kudos to Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and the team’s front office. Kudos to ownership for allowing this to get ugly. You never know how things might shake out but it seems to have been well worth the wait. They needed to be every bit as as smart and every bit as brave as they were; only smart or only brave wouldn’t have cut it.

Alas, the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-37) head to Philly to take on MVP favorite Joel Embiid and the Sixers. No one has a season of his or her prime flushed down any toilets.

In case you forgot where we left off, this Sixers team has actually lost three of their last four games. They took L’s against the Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, and Phoenix Suns recently. They avoided dropping four straight by knocking off DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls in between.

Remember now? You were saying something about their struggles vs. zone defense and how you wanted Doc to stagger Tyrese Maxey and Joel’s minutes a bit more so that the team wasn’t fully bereft of dribbling deft when — boom! Shams and Woj dropped trade bombs on us. Well, Doc Rivers asked for a guard after the last game and the front office apparently heard him.

The Thunder don’t represent the biggest challenge and that’s an especially good thing now that the Sixers figure to be extra shorthanded following their splash trade.

Tyrese Maxey has popped up on the injury report with hamstring tightness. It would be a letdown if he weren’t able to go but the truth is we’re still pinching ourselves the Sixers were able to land James Harden without parting with Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, or Danny Green. If ‘Rese needs a game off to rest, it’s well earned.

If Maxey is a go, we’ll be thrilled to watch him continue to develop as a playmaker.

(Fun fact: James Harden is second in the NBA in assists per game with 10.2, and 34th on the all-time dimes leader list in NBA history but still very much has the reputation as a guy who doesn’t pass).

Shake Milton has been upgraded to questionable. That’s a big step for Sniper Shake who has missed significant time now with a back injury.

Andre Drummond and Seth Curry set sail for Brooklyn so the Sixers may need to call some reinforcements for this one. And they can! Jaden Springer, Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe are all still here. We’d heard Reed and Joe’s names pop up in trade rumors. They survived the very scary deadline.

It sounds like head coach Doc Rivers took mercy on his nervous bunch and gave them a day off to refresh Twitter while trying to learn if they’d need to move. Imagine?

The Thunder were pretty shorthanded last game vs. Toronto:

Isaiah Roby has been ruled out vs. Philadelphia. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has missed the team’s last few games with an ankle injury. They’re not exactly the epitome of health and vitality either.

The Thunder have lost seven out of their last 10 games including three straight coming into this one. In their last bout, the 117-98 shellacking they took to the Raptors, Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokuševski led the way for OKC with 18 apiece. The Raptors wound up with six players in double figures. Defensive gem who often defends James Harden well, Lu Dort, dropped 15 points with four rebounds and four assists.

This group is going to have their hands full with Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. Embiid has been absolutely wrecking teams.

Harris has quietly played his best hoops of the season. He’s coming on at a crucial juncture and may have even helped himself avoid a fate of being dumped into the Thunder’s dreaded cap-space graveyard (that once claimed Al Horford) with this recent hot streak.

(Fun fact: James Harden dropped 37, 11, and 10 in a win vs. the Spurs less than a month ago).

I thought Joel Embiid might have looked a bit tired at times over the team’s last seven games or so. But it’s hard to picture the Thunder keeping him down. Hopefully they can get him some old fashioned load management by the fourth. I know, I know, famous jinxing words. My bad ahead of time.

We don’t expect to see James Harden or Paul Millsap right away. Harden actually hasn’t played since he scored four points in a loss to the Kings. There was some question about if he had “q—t on the Nets” or if he was injured or some of both. Harden seems to have picked up some “tightness” and a “strength deficit” in his left hamstring. At least that’s what his last head coach Steve Nash said. Woj and Ramona Shelburne said an MRI confirmed that but still, not everyone’s buying that idea:

Full context on that situation here.

My two cents: Harden did actually pick up a hand strain and a bit of a left hammy issue recently. But he also had a sense there was a pending trade and he didn’t want to derail it pushing himself during the second game of a back-to-back when Kevin Durant was out of the lineup anyway.

But if there’s anything going on with his hamstring whatsoever, I wouldn’t mind the Sixers holding him out through the All-Star break at all. That would only be four games he’d miss and would allow him to rest up and put whatever happened in Brooklyn behind him.

The Beard is fourth in minutes per game now at 37. That obviously cannot continue if this team has title aspirations. They need him and Joel fresh for the playoffs. Holding him out for four games now would mean he could sneak in a three-week break mid season. Not the worst idea.

In terms of lineups, not having The Beard would kind of just be like not having Seth Curry, since the team was without Ben Simmons all season anyway. They’re used to this. They could probably hack it and let him heal up. Harden went absolutely gangbusters vs. the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day following his two-week (asymptomatic) COVID absence. He’s looked his best when he’s well-rested this season. Just a thought.

It will be fun to get to see Josh Giddey. The 6th overall pick in the most recent draft is a Rising Star along with Tyrese Maxey during the festivities at All-Star Break.

Hopefully Giddey makes a few fun highlights once the game is out of reach for OKC. We don’t expect to see Paul Millsap just yet, but it’ll be interesting at some point to see if he plays well enough to tempt Doc into some small ball lineups.

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

When: 7:00 pm ET, Feb. 11, 2022

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers