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March 21, 2023

James Harden dealing with 'Achilles soreness' putting availability in doubt for Bulls game

Sixers guard James Harden is dealing with 'Achilles soreness' that leaves his status up in the air ahead of the team's Wednesday night matchup with the Bulls.

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James-Harden-Sixers-Bulls-March-2023 Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Sixers guard James Harden dribbling against former teammate Patrick Beverley.

James Harden's nightmare outing against the Bulls on Monday evening would have been easy enough to move aside on its own, but the Sixers' star is now dealing with a health concern that will have to be monitored during a critical part of the season.

The Sixers' guard is listed as questionable for Wednesday's rematch against the Bulls in Chicago due to 'left Achilles soreness', and the first bit of concern came after the loss on Monday. Doc Rivers made note of the pain Harden was dealing with while trying to pinpoint a reason for his struggles against the Bulls this season.

"I don’t think it’s them, at least not tonight," Rivers said. "I thought he was hurting a little bit, I thought our pace was so slow, a lot of late-clock possessions, and when we’ve done that this year, typically we have not won the game. Or if we’ve won the game, it’s been like tonight where it comes down to the end. But that’s not how we want to play."

Harden had missed Saturday's game against the Indiana Pacers for "injury management," a relatively normal thing to do for a vet against a bad team on the second half of a back-to-back. If we're looking for a play that might have exacerbated (or caused) any soreness Harden could be dealing with, one would look toward a play toward the end of the first half, when Harden was stripped by DeMar DeRozan (perhaps not completely legally) before slamming to the floor, taking quite a while to get up and moving back to the Sixers' huddle.

On the surface, didn't look like much at the time, though Harden sort of awkwardly slams that left leg back down to the wood after DeRozan rips it away from him.

In Philadelphia's locker room after the game, Harden moved a bit slower than usual, eventually summoning head athletic trainer Kevin Johnson to his locker to give him a postgame inspection and treatment. Any insight he might have shared on the situation will have to wait for a later date, however, as Harden left the locker room while Joel Embiid held court with reporters after Monday's loss.

A knock for Harden puts the Sixers in an interesting predicament down the stretch. His play has been absolutely essential to Philadelphia's push toward the top of the league, giving them a chance to capture the No. 2 seed in the East or perhaps climb as high as No. 1 with some good fortune (and good performances) between now and the end of the season. Securing at least the No. 2 seed could have an outsized impact on their ability to make it out of the second round — with the Celtics tailing off late in the year, homecourt against Boston could be the difference between beating the Celtics and falling in the same spot as in years past.

How do you balance the importance of that seed against Harden's health heading into the playoffs? The short answer is that you probably have to sacrifice any seeding push in favor of getting Harden right, as Philadelphia's title odds go from pretty good to nonexistent without their floor general to run the show. Philadelphia might be able to win some games in tough circumstances without him to close out the regular season, but they'd be drawing dead against real contenders in the playoffs if they have to go to war with a compromised version of Harden, which is doubly true if they lose Harden altogether.

That's the doom and gloom scenario, of course, and perhaps Harden is simply in need of a few days off to get right in the midst of an absolutely brutal portion of the schedule for Philadelphia. There is no relief coming in terms of upcoming opponents and the pace of the schedule — Philadelphia has three games in four nights spread out from Chicago to San Francisco to Phoenix to end this week, before a visit to Nikola Jokic's Nuggets next Monday. And once that's over, they get to meet up with Luka Doncic's Mavericks, a Toronto team playing for a play-in spot, a road trip to Milwaukee, and their final game of the year against Boston. No rest for the wicked.

With Harden having played 47 minutes in their double overtime loss on Monday, I'd probably err on the side of caution and at least give him that game off, giving him at least a few extra days to gather himself this week. But as the head coach likes to remind everyone, I am not a doctor, and so we will see how the team handles an important health decision with three weeks left in the regular season.

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