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October 21st, 2022

James Harden looks great, Joel Embiid looks terrible, and the Sixers are 0-2 after having dropped a pair of games to Eastern Conference rivals.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

In today's newsletter:

  • Thoughts on last night's 90-88 loss to the Bucks.
  • Key stats from the game.
  • Quotes and press conference audio.
  • Link roundup.

One thing that has been noted over the years, both by myself and pretty much everyone who either covers this team or watches it on a regular basis, is that the team goes as Joel Embiid goes. That is both because he is the lynchpin of their defense and the focal point of their offensive attack, and also because his energy level seems to have an outsized impact on that of the team.

The season is still only two games old, a caveat which we can't ignore. The NBA title has neither been won nor lost. But the season could not have started off on a rockier foot for the Philadelphia 76ers, who have dropped a pair of games against their top Eastern Conference rivals in a 48-hour span. They've lost each game in different ways, from the defensive disaster up in Boston to the inept offensive showing against the Bucks.

But through those two games there have been two consistent trends, one positive and one negative. The positive is that James Harden looks like a reasonable approximation of the player he was in his pre-hamstring Brooklyn Nets career. The fact that he has gone out and scored 35 and 31 in the first two games of the season, already surpassing the number of 30-point performances he had for the Sixers in the regular season last year, is wildly encouraging. And unlike last year, when he looked his best against the Knicks and the Wolves of the world, he's doing this against two of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference, and last night against a player in Jrue Holiday who has given him (relative) trouble in the past. After having so much uncertainty over what version of James Harden you were going to get this year, this is about the best start from Harden that you could have reasonably hoped for.

But that has all been overshadowed, and rightfully so, because Joel Embiid does not look physically and mentally ready to play NBA basketball yet.

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