Rivers: Harden's game off ‘just precaution,' Sixers mindful of his minutes


James Harden didn’t evade the question Sunday night.

Asked about whether he’d play the next day against the Heat, he said, “That’s the plan. I plan on playing.”

The Sixers ultimately ruled Harden out late Monday afternoon with the designation of “left hamstring injury recovery.” 

That made it fair to wonder whether anything had gone wrong with Harden’s health since the night before.

“No setbacks,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame. “Just precaution.”

On the second night of a back-to-back, Joel Embiid also sat for the Miami matchup because of back soreness. Since falling hard after a Flagrant 1 foul last week by Nuggets forward JaMychal Green, Embiid had been listed as questionable on subsequent injury reports. Before Monday, he'd played 20 games in a row. 

“Joel’s been nursing the back and James, we’re very conscious of what’s going on with his hamstring,” Rivers said. “So we’re just being very careful.”

Harden had been active for seven straight games after a planned injury management night in Miami on March 5. He averaged 38.8 minutes during that stretch, which sure appears a high number for a star player with hamstring issues the past two seasons. 

Rivers isn’t comfortable with nearly 40 minutes per night for Harden over the rest of the regular season. 

“No,” he said. “It’s funny, we go back and forth with our team on it, because the whole thing with James is that he’s missed a lot before this. And James, he wants to build up so he can play 40 minutes a night for the playoffs — or have that ability to do that. And so we’ve done that twice, and that’s a good thing. 

“But 39 on average is too much. But you have to ramp everybody’s minutes up. You have to build up so that when they get to the playoffs, they’re able to sustain a little bit more minutes.”

Harden on Sunday didn’t describe any problems related to the heavy workload.

“I’m good," he said. “What is this, 12 games for me? Really like 10, 11 (active). So I’m just trying to keep my pace and my energy up. It’s a lot of minutes and I’m trying to produce, trying to get to the basket. I’m trying to just be involved in mostly every possession. I feel good. I feel good for now.

“I’ve just got to keep going, keep working on every single possession, making sure I’m involved, which comes with cardio and comes with just being on the court and being active every possession.”

After Monday, the Sixers have 11 regular-season games left and two remaining back-to-backs. Having a pair of healthy All-Stars when the postseason begins is an obvious priority.

Rivers seemingly doesn’t view figuring out playoff rotations in the same way. He suggested the subject is overblown locally.

“I’m not that close,” Rivers said. “I’m not that concerned by it either, to be honest. I’m just not. We give a lot of talk to rotations around here. I guess it’s a Philly thing, I don’t know. But I always laugh at it. If we set our rotation and then someone plays poorly, should we not play someone else off the bench? Or should we just stick to it? So, we’ve got a lot of guys. … It’s not the rotation to me. It’s more figuring out a way to play with one guy on the floor — meaning James and Joel, when one is off the floor. That to me is a bigger concern as far as our rhythm and how we play there. 

“That is very important for us. And we’ve been inconsistent in that, to me. Joel and James together, we’ve figured that out pretty well. We’re starting to do that well. But the separation of the two … one night it seems like the one group we have out there is doing well, and then the next night it’s the other group. So what we’re really looking for is 48 consistent minutes of good play, and we haven’t done that.”

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