Extra Pass: Harden, Sixers look to add to Knicks’ woes

Published February 27, 2022, 2:30 PMMiguel Flores

After a successful Sixers debut, James Harden hopes to continue the momentum against the skidding Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Live from New York…

…it's James Harden! The former Brooklyn Net didn't have to wait long  to make a return to Madison Square Garden. This time, Harden comes back as a Philadelphia 76er, rejuvenated and, surprisingly, incredibly determined.

Harden had missed almost a month before he came back on Saturday. In his Sixers debut, Harden summoned his peak powers, going for 27 points on 7-for-12 shooting with 11 assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The most promising sign for Philly fans: Harden attacked the rim with vigor, getting to the free throw line and making eight of his nine attempts.

Harden was listless as a Net this season, registering a field goal percentage close to 40 percent. This was mostly due to a his shot selection and visible lack of enthusiasm as Brooklyn encountered layers of controversy on top of injuries.

This one-game sample of Harden is the best Philly could have hoped for. Before Harden, Joel Embiid was carrying so much of the offensive load. While Embiid showed he could dominate any low-post defense a team could throw at him, the Sixers’ offense still needed a jolt. With Harden, they got an added layer of shot creation that could be crucial in the playoffs. 

Harden doesn’t have the best playoff track record. His teams have been known for collapses, both accidental and self-inflicted. But peak Houston Harden never played with a star as dominant as Embiid. Harden and Embiid displayed spurts of chemistry in the pick-and-roll. Philadelphia also had the option to stagger their stars, which could further benefit them down the line to manage their stars’ minutes.

It’s never right to analyze a one-game sample, but Philadelphia crushing a solid Timberwolves team on the road should offer plenty of optimism. Embiid continued dominating with 34 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyrese Maxey showed how he fit into this new configuration with 27 points. The Sixers suddenly look like the favorites in the East.

Classic Knicks

At this point, the New York Knicks are playing more for the spectacle and less for on-court success. It's been downhill for Knicks fans since their opening day double-overtime win against the Boston Celtics.

It’s easy to see why the Knicks regressed this season because they’re barely doing any of the things that brought them to the playoffs last season. The league-leading defense? That fell off a cliff from allowing below 100 points to 106.7 points per game this season. The unique offensive flow? Injuries hit the Knicks hard this season and they never quite got off to a good start.

The biggest difference has been Julius Randle. After a season where he earned an All-Star nod and Most Improved Player honors, Randle has regressed. He went from averaging 24.1 points on 45.6 percent shooting to 19.7 points on 41.2 percent shooting this season. His shot selection has remained about where it was, but he hasn’t been making them.

Entering tomorrow’s game, the Knicks are 12th in the East, 3.5 games behind 10th place and a play-in berth. If there’s something to look forward to for Knicks fans aside from heckling Harden, RJ Barrett looked great in their last game against the Miami Heat, dropping 46 points in a loss.

Jimmy Butler called Barrett the future of the Knicks after the game. The way things are going and given the Knicks’ complicated cap situation, the future is all they have.

Where to watch

Any game in Madison Square Garden has a unique atmosphere that can be felt even through a TV screen. Maybe it's the beautiful arena or Mike Breen calling the game, MSG is the perfect basketball setting. It already hosted Steph Curry's historic game this season. Now, New Yorkers can watch Harden play for his new team.

You can watch this game live on NBA League Pass at 2:00 AM. If you aren’t set to be up that late, One Sports is going to have the Dallas Mavericks taking on the Golden State Warriors live at 8:30 AM. No matter when you choose to wake up, there’s bound to be a good game on.