Doc Rivers, James Harden

Getty Sixers head coach Doc Rivers goes over the gameplan with star guard James Harden in the 2022 postseason.

The James Harden experiment has hit its first significant snag in Philadelphia. The future Hall of Famer looks a tad slower, dare we say old? His once automatic long-range jumper has been off the mark, perhaps due to a nagging hamstring injury. Whatever the case, Harden is struggling.

Joel Embiid wants his All-Star teammate to be more aggressive. They need Harden to carry the load with Embiid banged up and he’s not doing it. Why? ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has a wild conspiracy theory about Harden which he revealed on Tuesday morning during an episode of Get Up.

He believes Harden might be playing poorly on purpose to get Doc Rivers fired. Yes, Smith trotted out that crazy idea while his ESPN colleagues Kendrick Perkins and JJ Redick looked on in disbelief. Here’s what Smith said with a straight face:

Are we really going to sit here and act like we don’t suspect what is really going on? James Harden has not been the same since his hamstring, fair enough. James Harden looks like he lost a step. He ain’t the same player that he was in Houston … is James Harden really that bad? Has he really lost that much of a step, JJ Redick? Or is it that you wanted to get out of Houston so you got to Brooklyn, and then when you got to Brooklyn, you really wanted to get to Philly and so obviously you told Steve Nash one thing, you do another …

And you end up getting out the door which is what you really wanted because we know what he is willing to do, and now you’re in Philly and all these rumors are circulating, that if things don’t work out Doc Rivers is going to be gone and Mike D’Antoni is going to be in there. Who wants Mike D’Antoni as the coach? We all know Daryl Morey is one of them. James Harden’s another. Is that going to happen if James Harden is looking all world? Is that going to happen if Philly is winning?

Let’s be clear: Smith’s theory is ridiculous. But Harden’s declining play is real. The 32-year-old is averaging just 18.4 points per game versus Toronto while shooting 25-for-68 (37.6%) from the field. Yikes.

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Charles Barkley Jumping on Raptors Train

TNT’s Charles Barkley — one of the greatest Sixers of all time — seems to be jumping aboard the Raptors train following Philly’s meltdown in Game 5. He predicted a Sixers’ loss in Game 6, then all bets are off in Game 7 back in Philly.

Well, Barkley had more colorful terminology for how he sees that playing out. Game 6 is a “must-win game.”

“They’re not gonna win Game 6 in Toronto,” Barkley said. “Let me tell you something, by the time they get to Game 7 them sphincters gonna be so tight.”

Doc Rivers Ready for ‘Lively’ Atmosphere in Toronto

Rivers thought the Raptors were tougher than his team in Game 5. They just wanted to win more than the Sixers and it showed. More alarmingly, the Raptors got everything they wanted at the offensive end. They routinely ran the shot clock down and turned the game into a “slow pace slugfest.”

“They got everything they wanted,” Rivers said, “and not only did they get it, they used 23 seconds damn near every possession.”

Now the Sixers have to head back up to Toronto where the pressure will be on. That building will be loud. Drake will be obnoxious. And the Raptors will be energized. According to Rivers, the atmosphere could actually help his team in the long run.

“I know there’s a gear that we have that we didn’t use the last couple of games,” Rivers said. “And going there it’s going to be a lively atmosphere, I think that’s going to be great for us in a crazy way. I think we’ll be ready for that.”

Source: Heavy

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