On Saturday night, Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers are set to take the court for their first playoff matchup of the 2022 postseason.
Last year, Embiid entered the playoffs with Ben Simmons as his co-star. Simmons has been replaced this season by the ten-time All-Star, James Harden.
After a midseason trade between the Sixers and the Brooklyn Nets went down on the day of the deadline, many were shocked to know that Embiid and Harden were forming a superstar duo in Philadelphia.
There have been some highs and lows since the two linked up on the court together in late February. At times, the Harden-Embiid combination has looked unstoppable. However, there have been growing pains as well.
As Sixers head coach Doc Rivers mentioned earlier this week, Harden's fit with the Sixers is still a work in progress as he's only played a little over 20 games with the team. Considering Harden is still working to find his fit in Philly, many remain skeptical about what's to come for Philadelphia in the playoffs.
Several factors cause concern for the outsiders looking in at the Sixers, who tip-off their series against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Among those concerns are Harden's past playoff runs, which always came up short of resulting in a trip to the NBA Finals.
No Worries on This Side
For Joel Embiid, his only goal is to bring a title back to Philly for the first time in decades. Although the ten-time All-Star Harden hasn't won an NBA championship during one of his previous stops either, Embiid doesn't seem too concerned about Harden's previous struggles in the postseason.
"People talk about pressure or whatever happened in the past," said Embiid this week. "You look back at what he’s accomplished and what he’s done; he had to play against a freaking dynasty. It would’ve been hard for anybody to beat those Golden State teams, so bad timing, but I’m sure it’s gonna be fine.”
In the upcoming series against the Raptors, Embiid knows Toronto will bring the heat against him as they've been one of the more successful teams when it comes to slowing the big man down. Therefore, Embiid is urging Harden to be himself simply.
“He’s doing a great job of being a playmaker, but we need him to be aggressive and really score," the big man said. "Especially against Toronto with the way they guard me. We’re gonna need everybody. ...He just has to be himself."
Embiid, Harden, and the Sixers are set to host the Raptors for Game 1 on Saturday night. With all of the narratives floating around heading into the possible seven-game series, the Sixers have a lot to prove to their doubters over the next couple of weeks.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.