MILWAUKEE — Danny Green will spend this weekend on a couples trip to Park City, Utah. Georges Niang plans to take his mom to brunch while visiting his hometown just outside of Boston. Furkan Korkmaz is going to Miami.
That coach Doc Rivers playfully insisted “James [Harden] affects my vacation plans zero” illustrates that the 76ers will relish the All-Star break that arrived after Game 58 out of 82 of the regular season, a dramatic 123-120 road victory against the Bucks. Yet the opportunity to unplug also comes with a dash of anticipation of what awaits on the other side: Harden’s Sixers debut and the sprint to the playoffs.
“The first day, probably no,” Niang said when asked if he will be antsy during his time away. “But after that, yeah. We’re excited to get James rolling, and I think there’s going to be some itching and clawing to get back — especially knowing he’s right next to us, going to battle with us.”
First, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey were headed to Cleveland for All-Star Weekend. Embiid will be touted as an MVP front-runner during the festivities culminating in Sunday night’s All-Star Game. Maxey, meanwhile, was selected for Friday’s Rising Stars event — including as a late replacement for the Clorox Clutch Challenge, a new team shooting game now part of the program. Harden, who was voted in as an All-Star reserve by the league’s coaches, will miss the weekend while continuing to rehab his hamstring injury has kept him out since Feb. 4.
Rivers, meanwhile, will travel to an undisclosed location. He joked the break’s purpose is so coaches can get away from players. But it also allows him to play golf by day, and watch film by night.
In acclimating a superstar of Harden’s caliber, Rivers said he draws on his playing career to understand how locker-room dynamics can manifest after a blockbuster midseason trade. Some Sixers players, meanwhile, have relevant experience on both sides of this type of move.
Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were both acquired by the Sixers during the 2018-19 season. Harris acknowledged last week that “it was hard to build that chemistry as a whole” in such a short period of time because the Sixers “had a lot of moving parts, a lot of things going on behind the scenes.” As an example from that season, Embiid added that it took until the playoffs to have Butler play on the ball as a point guard, but by then, “it was kind of too late to figure that out.”
Embiid, Harris, and Rivers believe the outcome with Harden will be smoother.
“All that comes together with the personnel and the attitudes and the demeanors of what we’re trying to accomplish as a group,” Harris said. " … I think this thing will really work, and I think it could be something real special that we can do.”
Added Rivers: “It’s a human game, just like life. You just try to figure it out and figure the right buttons for this group and the right path, because everyone goes on their own journey.”
Green acknowledged that mentally managing the days since last week’s trade has been tricky. Since then, the Sixers have yo-yoed from a slog of a win against tanking Oklahoma City, to an impressive double-digit victory over Cleveland, to an ugly 48-point home loss to Boston, to Thursday’s down-to-the-wire win over the defending champions. That final result bumped the 35-23 Sixers from fifth to third in the jumbled Eastern Conference standings, and 2½ games behind Miami and Chicago, tied for first.
“[Knowing what’s coming after the trade] makes it harder to enjoy a lot of things right now,” Green said before Thursday’s shootaround. “Not just the break. ... We do enjoy [the wins], but it’s hard to really assess. We haven’t had a full roster all year. We don’t know how we’re going to be when James comes back to play.
“I think we’re all extremely excited about how it’s going to be and how it’s going to look.”
Harden has participated in one formal practice and two shootarounds since joining his new team. He traveled with the Sixers to Milwaukee to continue forging those early on- and off-court relationships. He was engaged on the bench during the win over the Bucks, pulling Maxey over for tips during breaks in play and standing next to Rivers as he drew up sets in crunch time.
The Harden era begins in earnest after the break. Which means, even as the Sixers welcome the opportunity to recharge, the next week will come with a dash of anticipation.
“Once we get back to it, this is really the time for a big push for us,” Harris said.