PHILADELPHIA (AP) — James Harden sat at his stall inside the 76ers' new locker room — complete with oversized team logo in the centre — and got his left ankle taped.
The condition of The Beard's Achilles is the No. 1 worry these days for the Sixers as they chase a championship. And if Harden hurt after another double-double, he wasn't letting on.
“I feel good,” Harden said.
Asked how he managed the ups and downs of the often-painful injury, Harden simply said again, “I feel good.”
Good might be good enough for the Sixers.
Joel Embiid had 25 points and 12 rebounds, Harden had 23 points and 11 assists and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Toronto Raptors 117-110 on Friday night.
The Sixers made 30 of 39 shots (77 per cent) in the first half and raced to a 24-point lead that nearly evaporated. Fred VanVleet, who scored 16 points, buried a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter that pulled the Raptors to 103-101 and silenced the sellout crowd.
Embiid, though, steadied the 76ers with a jumper and PJ Tucker buried a 3 that gave them some breathing room. Harden drove to the hoop for a bucket and a 110-101 edge that forced the Raptors to call timeout.
The Raptors didn't have another run in them. Scottie Barnes scored 29 points and O.G. Anunoby had 19.
Harden and Embiid combined to make 12 of 16 shots and Harden made all three 3-pointers in the first half. Embiid and Harden showed no ill effects of injuries that hampered them of late.
Embiid is playing through a nagging right calf injury that cost him a game — and maybe some MVP votes — Monday at Denver. He said the injury is “good enough” and is trying to survive the remaining games without incident. With Embiid, though, there’s always a small scare for the 76ers. The NBA scoring leader stepped on Anunoby’s foot in the first half and was briefly on his back. He gingerly got up and missed a free throw.
“He looked normal tonight,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He didn't look like he had any problems and let's just hope that continues.”
Harden has been dealing with a sore left Achilles for the last few months. The 33-year-old Harden said the pain has spiked at times during games. Rivers said Harden's injury has “been managed but it’s always a concern.”
The Sixers hit the 50-win mark this season in the fewest amount of games since 2001. The 76ers reached the NBA Finals that season and improbably haven't gone past the second round since. They've lost in the second round each of the last two seasons but remain contenders to at least win the Eastern Conference. That is, if Embiid and Harden are healthy.
“They're playing more solid,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I think they know what really each one of them is going to do. They just kind of have a very similar output. It just didn't seem that solidified last year. But it does now.”
Philadelphia's best shot at a deep post-season run since Embiid was drafted in 2014 came in 2019 when they lost the East semis in seven games to the Raptors. Under Nurse, the Raptors won the NBA championship that season. Now, Nurse admits he'll need time in the off-season to “reflect” on his coaching future, even if it's not in Toronto.
The Raptors play hard under Nurse and whittled the first-half deficit to three in the fourth quarter. But they fell to 38-39 and are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They would need to get to sixth place over the final six games to avoid the play-in tournament.
Raptors: Missed 12 of 14 3s in the first half. … Barnes appeared to hurt his left wrist late in the third quarter but stayed in the game.
76ers: Tobias Harris sat out with a non-COVID illness. De'Anthony Melton got the start. … Embiid and Rivers both picked up technical fouls in the first half.
Raptors: Play a back-to-back set Sunday and Tuesday at Charlotte.
76ers: Play Sunday at Milwaukee.
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Dan Gelston, The Associated Press