76ers' James Harden Says He Doesn't 'Feel Any Pressure' Ahead of NBA Playoffs

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIApril 12, 2022

Philadelphia 76ers' James Harden in action during an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Philadelphia. The 76ers won 133-120. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
AP Photo/Chris Szagola

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden told Zion Olojede of Complex that he doesn't feel any pressure leading into his team's first-round NBA playoff series against the Toronto Raptors.

"I don't [have anything to prove] ... I don't feel any pressure. I don't feel any of that," Harden said. "For me, it's going out there and playing my game, trying to help my team win."

The 76ers acquired Harden in February in a blockbuster trade-deadline deal with the Brooklyn Nets, who received a package of players and draft picks that notably included Ben Simmons.

Harden has largely struggled of late, though, averaging 19.7 points on just 36.3 percent shooting (29.1 percent from three-point range) since March 7.

The 10-time All-Star, three-time scoring champion and 2017-18 NBA MVP had much more success this season before that date, however, dropping 22.9 points on 42.5 percent shooting (34.4 percent from three) across 48 games with the Nets and Sixers.

The only thing missing on Harden's sterling resume is a championship ring.

Having a co-superstar in MVP candidate Joel Embiid certainly helps, as does a talented supporting cast that includes Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle.

However, the No. 4-seeded 76ers have a tough matchup against the No. 5-seeded Toronto Raptors, who beat Philadelphia 3-1 in the regular-season series. The Raptors enter the playoffs as winners of 14 of their last 18 games.

Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet now lead the way for Toronto, with Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby providing additional help. Everyone but Trent was a member of the 2018-19 title-winning team. Scottie Barnes has been a revelation as a rookie, and Chris Boucher has been productive off the bench.

It may be difficult for Harden to break his slump against the talented Raptors, but this is also a player who isn't that far removed from a stellar start in Philly. He dominated in his first four games, dropping 26.8 points and 12.0 assists per game.

If he can somehow reclaim that form, it would go a long way toward helping the 76ers traverse the gauntlet that is the Eastern Conference and make the NBA Finals.

For now, Harden and the 76ers are focused on Game 1, which is Saturday at 6 p.m. ET at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.