CAMDEN, N.J. — If James Harden isn’t healthy, he’s a damn good liar.
The 10-time All-Star spoke Friday after practice about his health, his comfortability heading into his second postseason as a Sixer and how his tenure in Brooklyn ended.
The Beard got it out of the way early when he was asked how he’s feeling health wise ahead of Game 1 against the Nets Saturday.
“Great,” Harden said.
Harden missed five of the Sixers’ last 11 games with what’s been described as left Achilles soreness. It’s an injury that’s bothered him since mid-January. There’s concern given Harden’s age and recent injury history. In a double overtime loss to the Bulls in March, Harden played 47 minutes and likely his worst game as a Sixer. It had shades of Game 6 against the Heat last postseason.
Harden seems like he’s in a much better place than he was while dealing with a nagging hamstring issue last year.
“I’m extremely prepared,” Harden said. “I’m going to play 40 minutes tomorrow at the minimum. Just training my body, getting the right lifts in to be able to go out there and play 40, and be efficient and effective in those 40 minutes.”
While the idea of Harden playing 40 minutes is likely not music to Sixers fans’ ears, at least he’s feeling well enough to say that he’s capable of doing so.
As Harden heads into his 14th playoff run, he’ll do so against one of his former teams. Ben Simmons will not play. That’s all we have to say about that. We all know the details by now so there’s no need to rehash it all.
Though he was hesitant at first Harden did open up about his time in Brooklyn and his unceremonious departure.
“I don’t want to really go into that, but there’s a lot of internal things that was going on, which was one of the reasons why I made my decision. And everybody talked down on me and gave me negative feedback or whatever you want to call it. But now fast forward today ... nobody’s like ‘OK, James is smart. James knew what he was doing.’ Which I don’t want credit ... but I’m happy where they are now. Best of luck to those guys — Joe Tsai and that organization they turned what they had into something really good. They’re in the playoffs and nothing but great, great [things to say] about those guys and that organization.”
When Harden was traded to the Sixers ahead of last year’s deadline, it felt like a sprint to get the team ready to coalesce and make a run to a title. Harden played in just 21 games as a Sixer ahead of the postseason.
Not an easy ask.
This season, Harden played in 58 games, led the league in assists and played a huge part in Joel Embiid’s (likely) MVP season. The Sixers had the best record in the NBA from December on. Harden and the team are in a much better place than they were in April of 2022.
“Coming in with 20 games or something like that and then trying to make a championship run is difficult,” Harden said. “So this year, we get a full year under our belt. We know what’s expected. We know what works. We know what doesn’t work. We know what our strengths are. And so just trying to get to those strengths as much as possible, possession by possession, quarter by quarter, game by game.”
Not only did Harden downplay his most recent injury, he seemed eager to show everyone just how healthy he is compared to last postseason.
“I’m excited, man,” Harden said. “My energy, my pace, my aggressiveness is gonna be better. I’m just more comfortable, more confident in what I’m supposed to be doing out there.”
We’ll see soon enough.