Harden, 76ers ready to battle hot Suns – Metro US

Harden, 76ers ready to battle hot Suns

FILE PHOTO: NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets
FILE PHOTO: NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Houston Rockets

James Harden is fitting in just fine with the Philadelphia 76ers, who are making a concerted push for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Sixers will need another strong outing from Harden when they conclude a three-game trip against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.

Harden is averaging 23.0 points, 9.9 assists and 7.6 rebounds in 13 games since being acquired by Philadelphia. The Sixers have won three straight to pull within a half game of the Miami Heat for first place in the conference.

The 10-time All-Star had 29 points and a season-high 15 rebounds in a 122-97 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. Joel Embiid added 27 points and 10 boards.

“Things are headed in the right direction, but every single day we are focusing on execution and details,” Harden said. “There are going to be different ways we are going to have to win in the playoffs, and we have to be prepared for that.”

Philadelphia’s next test comes against the league’s best team in Phoenix, which has won seven straight.

The Suns secured the top seed in the NBA playoffs with a 140-130 win over Denver on Thursday.

Devin Booker scored a season-high 49 points in the victory while Chris Paul had 17 points and 13 assists in his first game back after missing 15 with a fractured right thumb.

“I think getting Chris back tonight gave us a ton of confidence,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “And then Book had one of the best performances I’ve seen him have since I’ve been here. The fact that he’s not in the MVP conversation is just somewhat silly.”

Booker is averaging 30.4 points on 55.1 percent shooting over his last nine games for the Suns, who have won their last five meetings against the Sixers.

Phoenix posted a 114-109 win in Philadelphia on Feb. 9 after trailing by as many as 14 in the third quarter. Booker scored 35 points in the victory while Paul had 16 points and 12 assists.

Sunday’s rematch features plenty of star power, including the battle in the paint between Embiid and Phoenix center Deandre Ayton.

The 6-11, 250-pound Ayton continues to impress in his fourth season. He is averaging 19.9 points and 10.0 rebounds in 13 games this month with seven double-doubles.

“It’s just so exciting man,” Booker said. “So proud. Just efficient, too. It’s the way that he does it. It’s not forced at all. He’s not going out there with any type of mentality to score 30 points. He wants to make the right plays. He wants to set good screens.”

The Suns are 27-8 in their last 35 games against the Sixers in Phoenix, but Philadelphia enters on a roll following impressive wins over the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers has settled on a dynamic starting unit that includes guard Tobias Harris, who is averaging 15.3 points over the last three games.

“Outside of (Harden and Embiid), I think Tobias is getting more and more comfortable,” Rivers said. “You can see it. He’s patient. He’s waiting for his spots. When he gets them, he’s aggressive, he’s taking them. I think he’s really starting to shoot the ball well and be comfortable in that role.”

–Field Level Media