Sixers get under the skin of historically great James Harden, Rockets

Sixers get under the skin of historically great James Harden, Rockets

After the Sixers demolished the Rockets Monday night, 121-93 (see observations), Joel Embiid had a clear memory of the second-quarter play in which he and MVP favorite James Harden each picked up a technical foul. 

He was in a good mood postgame, throwing in an apparent reference to Russell Westbrook and his heated objection to Embiid’s hard foul on him in the fourth quarter of the Sixers’ devastating loss Saturday (see story).

I was just walking back to my basket and I think [Harden] pushed my leg and naturally I’m going to react, and I did. We both got technical fouls and we move on. To me, I’m having fun. I’m always having fun and a lot of guys take it seriously. Especially when it comes to that, we just had one guy our last game that was acting crazy. But it’s fun to me. I love it.

Harden didn’t have nearly as thorough an explanation for what happened on the play.

“I don’t know,” he said.

While Harden extended his incredible streak of 30-plus point games to 20 straight, scoring 37 to join Wilt Chamberlain as the only other player in NBA history with such a run, it was a frustrating night for him and the Rockets. 

Veteran Corey Brewer, hungry to earn more than a 10-day contract, made it his mission to irritate Harden, one of his many former teammates. He face-guarded him full court, tried his best to force the six-time All-Star into difficult looks, and theatrically exaggerated contact whenever Harden pushed back. 

“It’s annoying,” Harden said with a laugh of facing Brewer. “Nah, he’s on a 10-day, he’s fighting for his career. He did an unbelievable job being active, bringing the extras to the game, and using his opportunity. He took advantage of it.”

Before the game, Sixers head coach Brett Brown was asked if holding Harden to 35 points would constitute a good night defensively. 

“I think it is,” he said.

The Sixers just about did that, in large part because Harden sat on the bench during the fourth quarter of a game already decided. Houston head coach Mike D’Antoni thought Harden could have scored “50 or 60” if the game had been close until the end.

It wasn’t, however, and that’s a credit to both the hodgepodge of defensive looks the Sixers threw at Harden and his teammates’ inability to knock down open shots.

Harden shot 12 for 26 from the floor, while his teammates were 19 for 60 (31.7 percent). 

“James saw a bunch of different looks," Brown said. "We hit him late, we hit him early. We denied him the ball as much as we could. You saw T.J. [McConnell] and Corey be the primary harass-type guys. 

"I think Corey just set the stage. He set the table that spilt over with a pretty solid 48-minute performance defensively on him. For [Harden] to [finish] with eight free throws in itself is a good accomplishment.”

After back-to-back overtime games, D’Antoni thought his team’s fatigue contributed to the Sixers getting under its skin. D’Antoni himself was given a technical at the end of the first half. 

“When you get tired, it’s a little hard to control your emotions and we didn’t do a good job of that,” he said. “They didn’t help us control our emotions. … But it is what is, we’re going to just forget this one and keep going.”

For the Sixers, though, Monday was the type of night they’d prefer to remember. 

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Source: Tobias Harris withdraws from 2019 FIBA World Cup

Source: Tobias Harris withdraws from 2019 FIBA World Cup

Another Sixer has decided that getting ready for the 2019-20 season will take priority over the opportunity to play international basketball.

Tobias Harris will not participate in this summer’s FIBA World Cup, a source confirmed Monday. The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey first reported that Harris had withdrawn.

Harris, signed to a five-year, $180 million deal this summer, was originally part of the 20-man squad scheduled to participate in a training camp from Aug. 5-9. A 12-man team will be named on Aug. 17, with the World Cup beginning in China on Aug. 31.

A number of other USA players have also reportedly withdrawn recently, including Anthony Davis, James Harden and Bradley Beal. Harris may have had a significant role if he’d chosen to stay on the team, which is now down to 14 players

Former Sixer Landry Shamet is among the players who will take part in the camp as a member of USA Basketball’s Select Team.

Ben Simmons — also locked in with the Sixers for the long term — withdrew from the Australian National Team to focus on preparing for the upcoming NBA season.

Jonah Bolden will be part of the Australian training camp, while rookie Marial Shayok was among the 29 players invited to Canada’s training camp.

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Backup center situation with Al Horford, Kyle O'Quinn shows Sixers are a destination

Backup center situation with Al Horford, Kyle O'Quinn shows Sixers are a destination

While the Sixers have arguably the best center in the league in Joel Embiid, the lack of depth behind him was crippling last season.

Brett Brown trotted out Amir Johnson, Mike Muscala, Jonah Bolden, Boban Marjanovic and Greg Monroe to no avail. He even went small, using Mike Scott at times because the situation was so dire.

Elton Brand was not about to let that happen again. He said so in his press conference following the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the defending champion Raptors. Brand didn’t assume his role as GM until after free agency last season and the backup center position wasn’t properly addressed.

With Embiid in the fold, how would he convince a decent backup to come to Philadelphia?

“I had a voice in and I didn’t speak up loud enough I guess, but there’s definitely some ways that we can sell Philadelphia,” Brand said back in May. “We’re a destination team right now, we’re a destination city. Players want to be here. So if I say, ‘Hey, there’s going to be X amount of minutes for you, we’re going to have a deep playoff run,’ I’m confident we can get some talent in that backup center.”

Well, apparently he was right.

The Sixers' GM made a pair of signings in Al Horford and Kyle O’Quinn that give Brown much more optionality when it comes to the backup five spot.

Horford’s hefty contract was likely a big factor for the 33-year-old. He’ll make $26.5 million in the final year of his deal at age 36. It’s a roll of the dice, but the idea for Brand is that Horford takes on two key roles: Starting next to Embiid and serving as his backup.

Not only can Horford back up Embiid, but he can do so at a high level. Horford has proven to be perhaps the only player in the NBA that could guard both Embiid and Ben Simmons effectively. He also showed his versatility in the playoffs by guarding reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. 

While there may be things to iron out offensively, the duo of Embiid and Horford on the defensive end should be a nightmare for opponents.

"I think I've said this in the past, I've always been a fan of Joel,” Horford said. “Just everything he brings, on the court, off the court. There were some great battles. When this opportunity came along, the possibility of teaming up with him got me really excited about the potential. How good we can help our team be defensively, get to working together and do some special things. I'm very grateful to be in this position."

FiveThirtyEight recently put out a new metric to measure defense called DRAYMOND. The basic principle is that it shows how good a player is at minimizing open looks for their opponents and how many shots that player defends. (It’s way more complicated than that, but you can read the full explanation here.)

It gets brought up in this space because according to DRAYMOND, the Sixers have three of the top 25 defenders in the league since 2013-14. It should come as no surprise that Embiid is No. 2 on the list and Horford checks in at 24.

What may surprise you is that the newcomer O’Quinn comes in ahead of Horford at 20th. O’Quinn is the epitome of an underdog. At Norfolk State, he led an upset of two seed Missouri back in 2012. He jokingly thanked Missouri for helping him become a second-round pick and start his NBA career (listen to the Sixers Talk podcast featuring O'Quinn).

But it’s certainly not all thanks to that game. O’Quinn has earned a reputation as a workhorse in the NBA. He’s taken on several different roles in the NBA from starting to being at the back of the bench. 

O’Quinn is better defensively than any center Brown used as a reserve last season. He goes into the season as No. 3 on the depth chart. He understands that he has Embiid and Horford ahead of him.

That’s not his concern.

“I’m going into my eighth year,” O’Quinn said. “I can’t look at a role that’s bigger than the picture that I need. I need to win. I like to win. I can’t really think of anything other than winning. When the games start rolling, the season’s long, you have to step in and I think that’s when you really earn your respect and you really get a tap on the back from yourself — stepping in when you need to be ready. That’s been my career. I don’t shy away from it. I never say a role is too small for me. I embrace it.”

Apparently, the Sixers are a destination.

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