For the third time in three seasons, James Harden is wearing a different uniform entering the playoffs.
This time, he is wearing the uniform of the 76ers, a February trade with the Nets resulting in Harden teaming with Joel Embiid. And this time, the first-round opponent is the Raptors. Game 1 is Saturday in Philadelphia, 6 p.m. EST.
“Pressure, no. I feel good,” Harden told reporters, via ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “I’m ready to hoop. There’s nothing to it.”
Embiid added that he has all the faith in the world in his new co-star.
“I tell him to be himself,” Embiid said. “He’s been doing a great job of being the playmaker but we need him to be aggressive and really score the ball, especially against Toronto. With the way they guard me, we’re going to need everybody. We’re going to need Tyrese Maxey to be aggressive with all the attention that’s going to be on me and James, Tyrese, Tobias Harris, all the other guys, they have to make plays.
“(Harden) just has to be himself, and not worry about people talking about pressure. Whatever happened in the past, you look back at what he’s accomplished and what he’s done, he had to play against a dynasty. It would have been hard for anybody to beat those Golden State teams, so bad timing. But I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”
Harden is averaging 21.0 points in 21 games with the Sixers. It’s just a small sample, but that’s his lowest average since the 2011-12 season, a decade ago when he was in his final season with the Thunder.
He suffered through a lingering hamstring issue for part of the season with the Nets, but he indicated he’s entirely healthy now.
“It’s good,” Harden said. “I’ve actually been doing some sprints and some hamstring work this week, so it’s a really good week to prepare myself for this first round.”