In the second of three games on their West-Coast road trip, the Sixers faced off with the Los Angeles Clippers for some late-night basketball. This game was on the heels of their victory over the Lakers on Wednesday, and they will face off with the NBA’s best Phoenix Suns on Sunday. The Clippers came into this matchup with a record of 36-38, sitting at 8th place in the Western Conference.
The Sixers got off to just about a dream start in the opening minutes of tonight’s game. Led by James Harden, Philly moved the ball freely and created effective looks that they were able to capitalize on. The Sixers jumped out to their largest first-quarter lead of the season as the period ended with the Sixers leading by 16 points. This impressive play early on propelled the team to a win, and the Sixers ultimately brought home a 122-97 victory.
James Harden’s Strong Play
There have been some growing concerns with the recent play of James Harden, who has struggled with his jump shot in the past few games. In the last 5 games he has played, Harden has shot just 20.8% from beyond the three-point arc on six attempts per game.
It was clear in the early minutes that James Harden had it going as he played with a refreshed “pop” in his step that was exciting to see. The Beard dropped a barrage of step-back three-pointers and ended the game with 29 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals. Harden is still finding the balance between being a playmaker and creating his own shots in the Sixers’ offense but his play against the Clippers was a massive step in the right direction.
Largely due to the style of his play, the highs and lows of James Harden are more extreme than most players of his caliber. It certainly is frustrating when the shots are not falling, but it must be remembered that he is still the same 10-time all-star the Sixers traded for just over a month ago. The strong play of James Harden also allowed for Joel Embiid to take a slight backseat in the Sixers offense, which is a very encouraging sign as playoffs get closer.
Checking In on the Young Guys
With the Sixers holding a commanding lead for just about the entirety of the game, Doc Rivers was able to take his foot off the gas towards the end. Joel Embiid was able to sit out the fourth quarter and clocked just 28 minutes, where he tallied 27 points and 10 rebounds. James Harden was the only starter to play more than 30 minutes, and Doc Rivers let some of the young guys off their incredibly small leash.
The most exciting news of the night was the opportunity for Paul Reed to get a chance to play. Bball Paul stepped out of the mud for the final 6 minutes of play and made sure to capitalize on the opportunity. In this limited time, Reed tallied 8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, and a block. His activity on defense and overall hustle were noteworthy, especially after some brutal minutes from DeAndre Jordan in the first half of the game.
Isaiah Joe and Charlie Brown Jr. were also given a few minutes, which was nice to see. Joe also attempted to make the most of his minutes and attempted 3 shots in his 5 minutes of play. Shake Milton seems to have earned his way back into the rotation after a few consecutive positive performances. Shake played 25 minutes in the matchup and ended with 7 points, 5 assists, and 2 rebounds.
Sixers Seeding Watch
The Sixers have just 9 games remaining in the regular season, but there are still a ton of possibilities in terms of what their playoff matchup will be. The first-place Miami Heat have been in meltdown mode with three-straight disappointing losses. Their lead in the East has slipped to just a half of a game above the Sixers and Bucks, who are tied for second place.
The top four seeds in the East are separated by less than one game, with the Celtics working their way into fourth place. The Sixers will face off with the Bucks on Tuesday, which will have some major implications on how the seeding ends up. The race at the bottom of the conference is also very tight, so it is tough to project who the Sixers will end up with. Regardless, the Sixers are certainly in striking distance of the top seed, which has not been the case for most of the season.
The playoff seeding will work itself out as the season comes to a close, but last night’s victory over the Clippers had some very positive takeaways. There was some frustration that the Sixers sleepwalked through the previous win over the Lakers, but this was far from the case in this matchup. It was a blowout victory from start to finish, and the Sixers made sure not to allow it to become a game again. If James Harden can play at this level and continue to inject this life into the Sixers offense, the offensive juggernaut that it was expected to become is coming to fruition.