Shooting guard James Harden is expected to return to the starting lineup for the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday after missing a month of action with a foot injury.
The 76ers meet the Houston Rockets on Monday evening for the third and final game of a three-game road trip. The 76ers are in the middle of a two-game mini-skid, after they went 8-3 in their previous 11 games. Overall, the 76ers are 12-11 with recent road losses against the Cleveland Cavs and Memphis Grizzlies.
The 76ers had a 4-5 record when Harden went down in early November. He missed 14 games, and the 76ers posted a winning record at 8-6 without him. Since Harden’s injury, center Joel Embiid missed a couple of games with a foot injury, and point guard Tyrese Maxey fractured his foot almost two weeks ago.
With both Harden and Maxey out, head coach Doc Rivers relied on the 76ers’ depth. Backup shooting guard Shake Milton led the 76ers in scoring three times in the last six games. Since Maxey’s injury, Milton averaged 20.4 ppg as the starter. Over the last three weeks, backup guard De’Anthony Melton stepped up averaging 14 points per game while filing in for Harden.
Harden to Return Versus Old Squad
Harden was initially diagnosed with a right foot tendon injury, and expected to miss four weeks of action. He last played in a loss against Washington Wizards in early November when he sprained his right foot.
Harden entered this season in the best physical shape he had been in years. A hamstring injury negatively affected his conditioning during his tenure with the Brooklyn Nets, and his paunchy demeanor became meme fodder for trolls on social media.
Before his injury, Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds per game in nine games this season. He shot 44.1% from the floor, and 33.3% from 3-point range.
Harden spent eight plus seasons with the Houston Rockets before they traded him to the Brooklyn Nets in late 2020. Harden won the NBA MVP during the 2017-2018 season with the Rockets. During his time in Houston, Harden averaged 29.6 points, 7.7 assists, and 6.0 rebounds per game. He also shot 36.2% from 3-point range.
Harden has not looked like his old dangerous self since he left Houston. Embiid criticized Harden’s lackluster performance in last year’s postseason and cited the halcyon days with the Rockets.
Obviously, I’m sure since we got him, everybody expected the Houston James Harden, but that’s not who he is,” said a frustrated Embiid moments after the 76ers were eliminated from the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
Harden took the critique to heart and diligently worked on his physical conditioning in the offseason. It was a bad coincidence that Harden suffered a foot injury nine games into the season.
The Athletic reported that Harden and the 76ers will target Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets as his return date.
76ers Now the #7 Seed
In the Eastern Conference playoff standings, the 76ers are in seventh place and would be headed to the Play-In Tournament if the season were to end today.
The 76ers are in third place in the rough and tumble Atlantic Division. The Boston Celtics opened up a 5.5-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets in second place. Only two games separate the Nets and last-place Knicks, with the 76ers and Toronto Raptors lumped in the middle.
The Celtics are huge favorites at -1600 odds to win the Atlantic Division, followed by the Nets at +1600 odds, and the 76ers at +2000 odds.
The 76ers were +1500 odds to win the 2022-23 NBA championship in the preseason. They slipped to +1900 odds after Harden went down with his foot injury. After the first quarter of the season is in the books, the 76ers are now +2200 odds to win the title as the ninth-highest favorite on DraftKing’s NBA futures board.