The Philadelphia 76ers are heading into the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs with a lot of pressure on their shoulders. On paper, they should make quick work of the spunky Toronto Raptors. At this point, anything short of a Finals showing would seem like a disappointment.
Unfortunately, there are some warning signs heading into the postseason that are hard to ignore. Namely, James Harden’s uneven play and his increasingly public clashes with 76ers head coach Doc Rivers.
On Thursday, ahead of this weekend’s playoffs, Sixers star Joel Embiid did a session with the media.
During the back and forth, Embiid got brutally honest about his only request for Harden heading into the Raptors showdown.
“I tell him to be himself. He’s been doing a great job of being the playmaker, but we need him to be aggressive and really score the ball, especially against Toronto,” Embiid said, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN. “With the way they guard me, we’re going to need everybody.”
Embiid also urged Harden not to give in to the public pressure regarding his past playoff failures.
“He just has to be himself, and not worry about people talking about pressure,.” Embiid continued. “Whatever happened in the past, you look back at what he’s accomplished and what he’s done, he had to play against a dynasty. It would have been hard for anybody to beat those Golden State teams, so bad timing. But I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”
For what it’s worth, Harden seems to have heard him. In a recent interview with Complex Magazine, the former league MVP said he’s not feeling any stress.
“No, I don’t. I don’t,” he said. “For me personally, I always want to go out there and play well and contribute in whatever way I need to contribute but for me, it’s going out there and playing my game, trying to help my team win. I don’t feel any pressure, I don’t feel any of that.”
It will be interesting to see how this situation shakes out. On paper, Embiid and Harden are a very talented duo. However, there have already been some issues.
A-Rod’s still got it. https://t.co/vYJc5LnVVT
— Game 7 (@game7__) April 14, 2022
And there’s a reason why Harden wasn’t Embiid’s first choice for teammate.
Obviously if the Sixers ultimately win it all, then this entire conversation is moot. But if they don’t, Philly’s offseason could prove even more dramatic this year than it was last.