The Philadelphia 76ers hope to have Joel Embiid and James Harden back in the lineup when they take on a resurgent Golden State Warriors club Friday night in San Francisco.
The 76ers blitzed the host Chicago Bulls 116-91 on Wednesday night despite Harden sitting out with left Achilles soreness andgiving Embiid the second half off due to tightness in his right calf.
With Embiid's benching coming after the 76ers had built a 28-point halftime lead, Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers found himself spending more time explaining Harden's status moving forward than his star center's availability for Friday's second stop on a four-game trip.
"We don't want him playing if it's sore," Rivers said of Harden, who also missed last Saturday's game against Indiana before returning to play 47 minutes Monday in a double-overtime home loss to the Bulls.
"If it's sore enough, we still won't play him on Friday," said Rivers. "We've gone into the playoffs two years in a row with injuries. We all learned, we all know that you don't win in the playoffs if your key guys aren't healthy. Period. So we're going to do whatever we can to be healthy."
Harden had 27 points and Embiid a game-high 34 when the 76ers beat a short-handed Warriors team 118-106 at home on Dec. 16. Golden State was missing Stephen Curry (dislocated left shoulder), Draymond Green (bruised right quad) and Andrew Wiggins (strained right adductor) that night.
Golden State remains without Wiggins (personal matters) but managed to string together consecutive road wins for just the second time this season when it defeated the Houston Rockets 121-108 and Dallas Mavericks 127-125 on Monday and Wednesday, respectively, to cap a 2-3 trip.
The Warriors (38-36) now get four straight at home as they attempt to move up from the sixth spot in the Western playoff standings.
The win over the Mavericks, who have protested the game over a third-quarter miscommunication with the officials, was particularly big. Had the Warriors lost, they'd have fallen below Dallas and into a Western play-in spot with just eight games remaining.
Golden State got a boost from reserve Jonathan Kuminga in the two wins this week. Taking advantage of playing time that might otherwise have gone to Wiggins, the second-year player had 17 points at Houston, then 22 at Dallas, making 16 of his 20 shots.
"He's turned a corner," veteran Draymond Green said. "Just for him to continue to build the confidence like he's been doing has been great. He's defending using his God-given abilities. It's huge and it's helped us a lot."
The Warriors have given no indication when Wiggins might return, but the club issued a statement Thursday indicating that Gary Payton II, who has not played since being acquired from Portland last month due to core-muscles issues, has been cleared to practice Saturday leading into Sunday's game against Minnesota.
Like the Warriors, every contest matters for the 76ers (49-23), who enter the final 10 games of their season tied in the loss column with the Boston Celtics (50-23) as they wrestle for the No. 2 seeding in the East.
Philadelphia will also face the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets to complete its critical four-game trip before heading east for a home-heavy stretch in which the 76ers will host the Celtics on April 4.
--Field Level Media