ESPN's Stephen A. Smith believes that a hamstring injury is limiting James Harden and preventing him from being the player the Philadelphia 76ers need him to be.
“He hasn't been that guy. He doesn't get the same level of separation. He doesn’t dance on people the way he used to, blow by people the way he used to. He doesn't draw fouls the way that he used to. All of the things that we have seen from James Harden, he can still ball, make no mistake about it, he's a baller.
"The reality is is that he is not the person he used to be, and because he's not that person, why should we assume that the Philadelphia 76ers are better off with him against the Miami Heat?”
Harden was brought to the Philadelphia 76ers in February to help Joel Embiid win a championship. But if Harden cannot explode and make plays in the paint the way he used to, then the 76ers may be in trouble as they reach the later rounds of the playoffs.
Harden has been more of a facilitator as Philadelphia has taken a 2-0 series lead over the Toronto Raptors. But Philadelphia will need him to be MVP Harden at some point during the playoffs.
The Philadelphia 76ers may be able to win their first-round matchup convincingly, but some elite defenses will force Harden to be at his best. Philadelphia plays in Toronto on Wednesday night.
James Harden's hamstring injury is hindering him but not stopping him
The Philadelphia 76ers have looked dominant in their first-round playoff series. That has allowed James Harden to play a minor role, with Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey carrying more of the load.
Still, Harden, 32, was the league MVP only a few years ago (2017-18), and he is still regarded as one of the game's elite players.
Harden's lingering hamstring issues have caused the guard to miss games over the past two years.
With the potential days off Philadelphia could gain by earning a first-round sweep, Harden can better manage his hamstring. If Philadelphia can keep finding ways to win without Harden needing to go all out, the team can keep him healthy longer. That way, he can perhaps save his best basketball for a potential NBA Finals appearance.
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