Philadelphia sports has been on a hot streak lately, with the Phillies currently in the World Series and only two games away from a title; the Eagles are the only undefeated team left in the NFL and play the Texans on Thursday night (which is really a bye for the Eagles) and the Union are on their way to the MLS Finals. Unfortunately, the latest Philly sports news isn’t something anyone will be cheering for.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports James Harden, the Philadelphia 76ers’ star point guard, is expected to miss a month with a right foot tendon strain suffered playing the Wizards on Wednesday night.
Of course, there is no good time for a significant injury to one of your star players, but this particular injury is compounded by the fact that Joel Embiid has missed three of the last four games with “knee management” and “non-COVID illness”. And we all know the East isn’t the cupcake conference it used to be.
The Harden injury could have the 76ers playing catchup all year
The 76ers’ were already off to a slow start this season, sitting currently at 4-5 and eighth in the Eastern Conference. Typically, records for contending teams are not a huge deal in the East which has been the weaker of the two conferences, but that has not been the case the last two years.
Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, and Toronto Raptors have continued to climb the standings each year. Then you have the usual suspects like the Milwaukee Bucks, the lone undefeated team in the NBA at 7-0 even without Kris Middleton who has yet to play a game this season. The Boston Celtics (4-3) have dealt with their own issues but are still expected to be at the top of the standings by the end of the year and the Miami Heat (4-5) have been one of the best teams in the NBA the last few years.
Who can step up for the 76ers
Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers promising young guard, will assume most of the playmaking duties going forward. On the season, Maxey is averaging 24.2 points and 3.4 assists. The latter number will need to increase if Philly hopes to avoid falling even further behind in the standings. Outside of Maxey and Embiid, the much-maligned Tobias Harris will have to step out of the shadows and prove he is still worth his max contract.
De’Anthony Melton, the combo guard acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies, will also take on a more significant role over the next month as the 76ers’ try to tread water until Harden is back in the lineup. Fortunately, Melton has been a Swiss Army knife off the bench but he missed his last game with back stiffness.
Ultimately, it comes down to back-to-back MVP runner-up Joel Embiid who’s had a slow start to the season thanks in large part to some foot issues in the summer that left him in less-than-optimal game shape to start the season. Embiid has believed he should have been MVP the last two years, and now he has a chance to prove that point without the Beard running point. But the Sixers will also need to be careful not to overtax their big star before he’s ready or they risk having both their top players in street clothes at the same time. Or worse.