The Sixers on Monday improved to 5-0 with James Harden on the floor with a decisive win over the Bulls. In those five games, The Beard has averaged 24.6 points and 12.4 assists per game on 72.6 true shooting.
While those numbers are incredible, and Harden has impacted winning in a significant way, his usage rate as a Sixer is 24.2 — that would be his lowest mark since his final year in Oklahoma City.
Perhaps that’s why Harden felt the need to get extra work in postgame.
postgame stairs. the grind never stops. pic.twitter.com/YsLIuaNwXG— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 8, 2022
Harden, his shirt soaked in sweat and still breathing heavy, addressed the media.
“I’m still tired from the game. No, I’m just playing,” Harden said. “No, I just ran the bleachers actually. I just ran the stairs up in the arena. Try to get some extra conditioning in, extra work in. Just making sure my body is strong and I’m back to how I normally would feel. So the work that I put in, it doesn’t change. I put the work in and I live with the results, and tonight was just another day at the office for me.”
Harden’s reputation proceeds him. He’s known as a guy that likes to have a good time away from the court.
But you don’t become a league MVP and one of the top-75 players in NBA history by simply showing up (well, unless you’re a certain six-foot guard from Georgetown maybe). Harden is diligent in working on his craft and does seem to maintain a high fitness level, despite the weird body-shaming that occurs from time to time.
Before last season, which included a standoff with the Rockets and a hamstring injury that sidelined him in Brooklyn, Harden proved to be one of the most durable players in the NBA. During his eight full seasons in Houston, Harden played 621 of 646 — or over 96 percent — of the team’s games. He averaged 37.1 minutes a game during that time, even leading the league in minutes per game while playing all 82 in 2015-16.
Musings that Harden’s body and game had deteriorated this season with the Nets look like they were premature. A separate hamstring issue from last season held Harden back from being the player that looked like an MVP candidate in Brooklyn just a year ago.
The absence of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get a safe and effective vaccine forced Harden to shoulder a large load on a team that lacked depth and firepower. All that while playing hurt.
Now with the Sixers, there’s a plan in place to ensure the hammy doesn’t hinder Harden for the rest of the season. That included sitting the second half of a back-to-back in Miami, something Harden was on board with while seeing the bigger picture.
“We put together a very, very great plan,” Harden said, “and we’re executing that plan very well. Credit to the training staff and the team for being all on the same page. That was scheduled from the time I get back. Hopefully, with these games coming up, I won’t miss another game. But that was scheduled, just because it was so early. I’m just now really getting back — it was my fifth game back — so I’m just trying to make sure that we’re smart about this thing and we’re all healthy going into the postseason.”
If the Sixers want to reach their ultimate goal in the postseason, playing defense like they did against the dangerous duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine would help. Tobias Harris did well against DeRozan while Matisse Thybulle did what he typically does against fellow Washington state native LaVine.
Thybulle was quick to deflect praise of his own defense, showering it on the entire starting unit.
Most notably, James Harden.
“Everyone knows his labels defensively,” Thybulle said, “and I think he’s taken a lot of pride in trying to shed those and be a solid defender and someone that’s reliable. Since he’s been on this team, I don’t think I’ve seen many problems — nothing more than what anyone else does.
“What he does that’s really unique is he’s able to get steals. He’s so crafty. I think his offensive savviness goes to the defensive end as well. He’s able to get these really easy steals and jump out and make reads that really weren’t in the scouting report or weren’t what we were going to do but are very effective. He got one steal today where I was guarding Zach LaVine, his man came to set a screen towards the top of the key, and he just jumped it. Zach dribbled off his leg and I think we got a layup.
“And it’s just learning how to play off of that kind of stuff, because usually it’s guys trying to read me when I try to do something a little out of the norm. It’s kind of fun to have someone else doing that as well.”
So, Thybulle and Harden are basically the same player defensively.
(Pause for laughter.)
Nobody will ever mistake Harden for an All-NBA defender. He does have his lapses and lacks the lateral quickness to be elite defensively. But credit to the veteran guard for showing legitimate effort on that end and mentioning it as an area of focus repeatedly during his availabilities.
That level of defense will have to be maintained going into Thursday’s matchup against the Nets. Durant and Irving form the second-most dangerous duo in the league (really hoping you see what I did there).
And, oh yeah, there’s that whole Harden-wanted-to-traded-from-the-Nets thing.
Is there anything extra to facing his former team?
Just another game?
“Yeah,” Harden said with a laugh. “I mean, I’m here. What do you want me to do?”
He is here and, at least so far, is doing everything he can to help the Sixers win basketball games.
Even postgame cardio.
“If I don’t do it, then I won’t be as good as I am,” Harden said. “Simple.”
Simply put — Harden has the Sixers thinking big while doing all the little things.