NBA

Sixers star Harden looking to show Nets what they are missing

By Sports Desk March 09, 2022

It is a return that calls for popcorn when the Brooklyn Nets head to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

A month after leaving the Nets for the Sixers, James Harden will have the opportunity to face his former team and show them what might have been.

The 32-year-old's time in Brooklyn was underwhelming to say the least, but he has taken to life in Philadelphia like a duck to water, with the Sixers winning all five games in which he has featured so far.

His partnership with Joel Embiid in particular has thrived, with the Cameroonian putting up 43 points and Harden making 14 assists in Monday's win against the Chicago Bulls.

Harden insists he is calm ahead of meeting his former teammates, saying: "I'm not nervous. It's basketball.

"I put the work in to go out there and just play my game and live with the results. Honestly, every game is a big game for us. We're fairly new. We got championship aspirations so every game is a learning process for us no matter who we’re playing."

Meanwhile, another highly anticipated return won't quite be the same as Ben Simmons remains sidelined for the Nets but will reportedly be in attendance at Wells Fargo Center.

Another less discussed story will be Seth Curry, who has made an excellent start to life in Brooklyn since being a part of the trade that saw Harden and Simmons swap cities.

In 10 outings for the Nets, Curry has maintained his average of 15 points per game that he managed in 45 appearances with the Sixers this season, though he has gone three without reaching double figures so will want to put that right against his former team.

The Nets have lost four of their six clashes since the All-Star break and sit on an even record of 33-33, while the Sixers have won five of six in that time, and all three home games.

They have met three times already this season, of which Brooklyn have won two, though Philadelphia did come out on top in late December 110-102.

It promises to be a fun night in Philly, and whether it be cheering Harden or booing Simmons, Sixers fans will likely make themselves heard.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Philadelphia 76ers – James Harden

I mean… who else?

It's not just because of the overwhelming amount of narrative involved. Harden has been a success story so far in Philly and will want to put on a show on this night of all nights.

Of course, as the league leader for points per game (29.7), Embiid will likely be the main man as usual, but with an average of 24.6 points per game since joining the Sixers and a big point to prove here, expect Harden to be at the centre of things either way.

Brooklyn Nets – Kyrie Irving

It's not very often that Irving isn't the centre of attention, but with the Harden/Simmons factor here you would think he might get a night away from the spotlight. 

Then again, if his form is anything to go by, maybe not.

Irving hit 50 points in Tuesday's win against the Charlotte Hornets and is averaging 26.2 points per game for the season, albeit while still missing several games due to vaccination rules.

KEY BATTLES – Nets must rely on experience

The cliche is that sport is a young person's game, but Brooklyn will be hoping that isn't true.

The Nets have the fourth-oldest average age of active roster in the league, and the second-highest percentage of points scored by players over 33 years old (40.8 per cent).

The Sixers are not exactly kids themselves but do have the 10th most points scored in the league by players under the age of 23 (15.5 per cent), mostly thanks to impressive 21-year-old Tyrese Maxey, who is averaging 17.6 points per game this season.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

As mentioned, the Nets actually lead this season's head-to-head 2-1, although since the start of the 2016-17 season, the Sixers have won 14 and lost just eight of the 22 meetings between the two.

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    Vaughn was dismissed on Monday after the Nets lost 136-86 to the Boston Celtics last week, leaving Brooklyn at 21-33 and 11th in the Eastern Conference heading into the All-Star break.

    The Nets had made the postseason in the last five seasons, but a 6-18 run has left the team with it all to do if they are to keep their playoff streak going.

    Nets general manager Sean Marks pointed to a perceived lack of effort as one area that must be fixed by the new head coach.

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    Many pointed to the Nets' 144-122 defeat against the Milwaukee Bucks as the reason for Vaughn's firing. The Nets were fined $100,000 for violating the NBA's player participation policy after choosing to both rest and sit a number of key players.

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