Meanwhile, Philadelphia 76ers fans are frustrated. Harden has been facing a lot of flak for his poor and unaggressive performances while losing Games 1 and 2 to the Miami Heat. The former MVP hasn't asserted himself, playing passively in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
On "First Things First," Wildes addressed Harden's primary issues during the playoffs. He suggested that Harden turned his abilities and motivation off when he wanted to exit Brooklyn in February but never turned them back on. Wildes said:
"Here's the weird thing about James Harden. He has the ability to turn it on and off at his discretion. ... Sixers fans and basketball fans in general want him to turn it on: 'Man, believe in yourself. Don't take just a handful of shots in the second half. We need you when Embiid's not here.' So the ability for him to turn on and off is the most confusing part of his game."
Harden has been incredibly underwhelming against the top-seeded Heat. Most assumed he would return to his Houston days and attempt over 30 shots a game to assert himself in Joel Embiid's absence. On the contrary, he has shied away from the big stage and disappeared in both second halves.
Harden finished with just 16 points in a 106-92 Game 1 loss on Monday. He attempted just four shots in the second half and ended up with four points after two free throws. In that half, he played the entire third quarter and attempted just three shots, missing two 3s and making one bucket in the paint. He then attempted just one shot in the fourth period, missing it and registering zero points.
The Beard then went 1-for-5 in the second half of a 119-103 Game 2 loss on Wednesday, posting another half with just four points. He went 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter and ended up with just two points off two free throws. Harden finished with 20 points.
The Harden who led the league in scoring for three consecutive seasons from 2017-2020 appears to be gone. He is averaging 18.0 points per game and shooting 39.3%, including 25.0% from downtown in the series. Even in the first-round series when Embiid was present, Harden averaged 19 points per game on 40% shooting.
Embiid missed both the games in the semifinals and is expected to miss Game 3 as well. With Embiid sidelined for the majority of this series, it looks like the 76ers are heading towards elimination.
Kevin Wildes believes The Beard can assert himself for the Philadelphia 76ers
Kevin Wildes is still optimistic that James Harden will show up for the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He believes Harden can turn it on at any time and will do so soon enough. He compared him to Russell Westbrook, someone who is known to play at his 100% all the time. Wildes continued:
"People take shots at Russell Westbrook ... because he can't turn it off. Harden can turn it off. He turned it off with Houston, he turned it off in Brooklyn and now part of me thinks that he is not turning it off in protest, necessarily, but he has turned it off."
Wildes gave an example of Westbrook celebrating a dunk even when his team trailed by more than 20 points. The suggestion is that he doesn't look at the scoreboard and plays to his full potential for all 48 minutes.
On the contrary, Harden knows how to pace himself and not play at his best when he wants to. He exited the Houston Rockets in dramatic fashion in January 2021 and did the same when he wanted out of the Brooklyn Nets in February 2022.
He hasn't been a reliable teammate ever since he arrived in Philadelphia, and there is no evidence to suggest he will establish himself in this series. Wildes even acknowledged that Harden's looming hamstring injury might be the reason why he isn't turning it on. Wildes said:
"I'm not willing to say that it's all physical. ... Maybe it's the hamstring injury has never fully healed. Maybe it has, but he doesn't feel confident in it."
Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers host the Miami Heat for Game 3 on Friday. Sixers fans are hoping the home crowd ignites Harden in the second half to avoid an 0-3 deficit.
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