The James Harden we’ve come to know over the years is not quite the man who arrived to Philly in February. The 76ers star has struggled by the lofty standard he set with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets. After a sterling start, he has settled into a tough shooting stretch that doesn’t appear to have any end in sight.
The Inquirer’s David Murphy has watched Harden and come away with a tough question that doesn’t have a straightforward answer: Is this Harden’s new normal? And how will it affect the Sixers’ chances in the playoffs?
As Murphy writes, to contend for a title, they need the old James Harden and not the Old James Harden.
— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport
Tell us, do you believe Harden can turn back the clock and return to form in the postseason? firstname.lastname@example.org
Off the Dribble
Matisse Thybulle is unvaccinated. And the Sixers will be without him for Games 3 and 4 of their NBA playoff series against the Toronto Raptors because of it. As of Jan. 15, athletes must be vaccinated in order to play in Canada. Thybulle was aware of that — and the chance that the Sixers and Raptors could meet in the postseason.
The Sixers’ defensive ace, who will be sorely missed against a Raptors squad full of athletes, explained his decisions to reporters.
“I made this decision a while ago where this situation I’m facing right now is not a factor,” he said. “It was not a part of the decision-making because, at the time, I would be available for my team and I would be available to play and not restricted in any way to do my job.”
Marcus Hayes has his own ideas on Thybulle’s decision and its repercussions.
Next: The Sixers enter the postseason on Saturday at 6 p.m. (ESPN), facing off against the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of their first-round series.
If anyone can assess the state of the Mets-Phillies “rivalry,” it’s Zack Wheeler. He came up with the Mets and turned into an ace for the Phillies. He has made 23 starts between the National League East foes. So how about that rivalry, Zack? “I didn’t really see it as a rivalry,” said Wheeler. “Just from hearing fans and stuff, I know they kind of take it that way. But me personally, I never really did.” Maybe it’s because in 60 years as coexisting major-league franchises, the Mets and Phillies have had eight mutual winning seasons, and none since 2008. But that may all be about to change.
Round 1 in the season series went to the Phillies in thrilling fashion Monday night. They scored five runs in the eighth to rally past the Mets, 5-4.
The Phillies didn’t wear their alternate uniforms in their opening series, but there’s a good reason for that.
Next: Wheeler makes his season debut against the Mets and Tylor Megill at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday (NBCSP).
On the Fly
The Flyers lost a legend when they traded longtime captain Claude Giroux on March 19. What they got back in return is a lot less clear.
In addition to two draft picks, the one player they acquired was Owen Tippett. Tippett has played 11 games for the club and scored two goals, but who is he beyond a once-touted prospect? Olivia Reiner recently talked to Tippett and those close to him to try and get a better understanding of both Owen Tippett the player and the person.
While Tippett has been around for almost a month, it was Day 1 on the job for Bobby Brink. The forward, who won an NCAA title on Saturday with the University of Denver, practiced for the first time this season with the Flyers and has some striking physical similarities to one of his new Flyers teammates.
Next: The Flyers are on the road in Washington to face the Capitals on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN).
For so long fans of the United States women’s national soccer team have been screaming, “Carli! Megan! Alex!” from the sidelines and stands, in appreciation of Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan. Now Lloyd has retired and while Rapinoe and Morgan are still veterans who can contribute, they are also known quantities. Coach Vlatko Andonovski is looking to evaluate a new generation of players.
So it’s time for “Ashley! Sophia! Midge!” But more than any other new star, forward/midfielder Catarina Macario has the evolving skills that reveal her potential to be a full supernova in soccer. Jonathan Tannenwald evaluates what makes Macario the best of an exciting young group of players.
Worth a Look
Joel Embiid becomes an underdog: The late money for MVP has fallen heavily on the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, who won the award last year.
Another sports switch: Molly Duncan followed her heart to Hawk Hill and took up a new sport in the process.
What you’re saying about fondest Philadelphia sports memory
Super bowl LII! I waited 53 years for it and cried like a baby that Sunday afternoon! J.Lynch
Attending U of Penn Saturday afternoon football games during WWII with free admittance by bringing 10lbs of scrap iron and dumping it on large pile at Franklin Field! Riding 38 trolley, with others carrying pipes etc., to the games. Think it would have been 1942-43? Merle R.
Which NBA player was the first to win two NBA Finals MVP awards?
A) Wilt Chamberlain
B) Michael Jordan
C) Willis Reed
D) Larry Bird
We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Scott Lauber, Alex Coffey, Olivia Reiner, David Murphy, Keith Pompey, Marcus Hayes, Gina Mizell, Jonathan Tannenwald, and Ed Barkowitz.