Did Philadelphia 76ers prove they can be contenders without James Harden?

Philadelphia 76ers Tyrese Maxey (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Philadelphia 76ers Tyrese Maxey (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Philadelphia 76ers opened their season with an impressive showing against title-favorite Milwaukee Bucks. 

When the Philadelphia 76ers took the floor against the Milwaukee Bucks, many tuned in to see the start of the Damian Lillard era. However, those that watched, likely left with a much different experience.

Sure, the Lillard experience was a sight to see. During his debut with the Bucks, Lillard finished with 39 points, eight rebounds, and four assists on 45 percent shooting from the field. He also played an instrumental role in closing out the Sixers late in the fourth quarter. But the Sixers were mighty impressive without James Harden on the road against the mighty Bucks.

In fact, I’d go all the way to say that it was the Sixers that left the bigger impression in this season-opening clash of East titans.

The Sixers proved that they could still be contenders in the East without Harden, something that was questioned all offseason long.

Many assumed that the Sixers would take a step back this season without Harden. That didn’t appear to be the case. Even when the game nearly got away from Philadelphia in the second quarter, they fought back to retake the lead in the fourth quarter.

Losing by one point with Lillard going off, the Sixers have to feel really good about themselves after one night.

Are the Philadelphia 76ers the best situation for James Harden?

It’s one game and it’s never smart to get too high or too low after the first day of the regular season but, if anything, the Sixers did prove that they are going to have an improved supporting cast around their stars.

Kelly Oubre Jr. had 27 points in his Sixers debut and looked mighty impressive. Even though it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect that level of output every night, the fact that the Sixers now have another supporting player who can go off for 25-plus points any given game gives them another element that they didn’t have last season.

Looking at how the Sixers played in their season-opener, there’s an argument to be made that Harden’s best possible situation is Philadelphia. If Harden plays, they probably beat the Bucks in the opener.

Feelings aside, this has to be a conversation Harden will need to have with his team. And with the LA Clippers stepping away from Harden trade conversations once again, there’s suddenly a realistic chance that he ends up having to play out the first few months of the season in Philadelphia.

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Time will tell how this all plays out. Harden is expected to play for the Sixers once he’s ready. At the earliest, that will be Sunday when the Sixers open their home slate against the Portland Trail Blazers.