As the NBA playoffs approach, nothing should be more important to the Philadelphia 76ers than keeping Joel Embiid and James Harden healthy.
An injury to one of their star players would likely derail their championship odds, in what seems to be their best chance to make a deep playoff run since the 2018-19 season with Jimmy Butler.
While winning the rest of the regular season games is still important, here is a look at why maintaining the health of the two stars is most important.
James Harden’s Nagging Foot Injury
After having an awful shooting night against the Bulls on Monday, Doc Rivers told reporters that Harden was dealing with some foot soreness.
Earlier in the year, he missed around a month of games after a tendon strain in his right foot.
The foot injury has been a theme for Harden throughout the year. When he’s on the court, he’s been an All-NBA caliber player, but keeping him healthy will be huge for the 76ers. It would be a tall task to replace his 21.4 points and 10.8 assists per game.
Harden sat out Wednesday night’s game against the Bulls to manage his foot soreness, which wound up being the correct decision as Philadelphia dominated Chicago, 116-91.
Playing it extremely safe with Harden’s foot is the correct move for a team that’s already snagged a playoff spot. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see him sit out anywhere from three-to-five of the ten remaining games.
Joel Embiid’s Injury History
Wednesday night’s game brought a bit of a scare for 76ers fans; After taking a 20+ point lead in the first half, Embiid didn’t come out of the locker room and never reappeared in the game for the Sixers.
It took a while for an update, but the team said it was because of the big lead, and Embiid had mild calf soreness. It was a huge sigh of relief for a fanbase that has seen Embiid go down more than once.
He missed his first two NBA seasons with a foot injury, has dealt with multiple knee injuries, along with injuries to his thumb and bones in his face.
It’s fair to say he’s known for being injury prone because he’s a physical big man. However, he’s done a good job at staying healthy the last few seasons.
Like Harden, it wouldn’t hurt the Sixers to rest Embiid once or twice the rest of the regular season. He’s possibly the most impactful player in basketball, and the team absolutely needs him at 100% for a deep playoff run.
Injuries Have Hurt 76ers in Recent Playoffs
The 76ers have had some bad injury luck in the playoffs in the Embiid era, mostly to Embiid himself.
In 2019, Embiid played through a knee injury and also had a stomach sickness throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. That year, they lost on the Kawhi game-winner. In 2020, Ben Simmons missed the entire first round with a knee injury, and the 76ers got swept by the Celtics in Round 1.
In 2021, Embiid had to play through a meniscus tear against the Atlanta Hawks after taking a hard fall in the first round. And finally, in 2022, he suffered an orbital fracture and a concussion in the first round series against Toronto, limiting his impact against the Heat in Round 2.
While most years, Embiid has been able to play, it has been through an injury. Keeping him at 100% makes a huge difference rather than just managing an injury.
At the end of the day, Philadelphia needs both Harden and Embiid at their best to take down other great teams like the Celtics and Bucks. Resting the two stars over the next few weeks will help accomplish that.
Featured image courtesy of Getty Images
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