76ers guard James Harden is entering the NBA Playoffs with zero pressure to perform, telling reporters Thursday that he’s just ready to ball.
“Pressure? No, I feel good,” Harden said. “I’m ready to hoop. There’s nothing to it.”
That’s Harden’s assessment, but if you take it from someone who knows what it’s like to play in Philadelphia, then you would disagree. Charles Barkley, who spent eight seasons with the 76ers, infamously finished his career without a ring. The 32-year-old Harden has been close, but like Barkley, hasn’t been able to lead his teams over the hump.
And for that very reason, Barkley says that not only is Harden under pressure, but more so than anyone else in the league.
“James Harden, you said you don’t feel no pressure? Man, you better think again,” Barkley said on TNT’s Inside the NBA Friday. “Them people in Philadelphia ain’t gonna be having you going out there and playing bad.
“So you can sit — I don’t want to call it deflection or whatever — you got more pressure on you than any player in the playoffs. Good luck, now, ‘cause my Sixers, I love y’all Sixers and my Suns, but James, don’t tell that lie.”
Barkley may be far from the only 76ers legend to not win a championship, as the franchise hasn’t won one since 1983, but the overall talent of the duo of Harden and center Joel Embiid makes this year a championship or bust season for Philadelphia.
Since the Feb. 10 trade that sent guards Ben Simmons, Seth Curry and center Andre Drummond packin’ to Brooklyn, the 76ers have gone 19-9. Harden has averaged 21.0 PPG, 10.5 APG and 7.1 RPG over that span, with the offense running through Embiid, who led the league in scoring this season with 30.6 PPG.
“I tell him to be himself. He’s been doing a great job of being the playmaker, but we need him to be aggressive and really score the ball, especially against Toronto,” Embiid said, via the New York Post. “He just has to be himself, and not worry about people talking about pressure.”
The 76ers will host the Raptors in Game 1 of the First Round Saturday at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN.
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