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James Harden, Joel Embiid return for 76ers in win over Mavs

After returning to the lineup from a four-game absence due to left Achilles soreness, Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden said he’s been dealing with the issue for “some months.”

“I don’t know where it came from. It’s been bothering me for some months, I would say,” Harden said after finishing with 15 points and 12 assists in 38 minutes in Wednesday night’s 116-108 win over the Dallas Mavericks. “I just wanted to continue to play on it, and there was one point to where the last game I played, [it was] just really unbearable so I couldn’t even go out there.

“Six games left to finish the season off, finish off strong, then we get another week to prepare. I felt like tonight was the game to come back.”

The game Harden was referring to was when he last took the court March 21 at Wells Fargo Center versus the Chicago Bulls — a game Philadelphia lost in overtime and in which Harden shot 2-for-14 across 47 minutes. After the game, he was seen limping in the locker room, and he then sat out the next four contests: a victory in Chicago, followed by losses in Golden State, Phoenix and Denver on Monday.

At shootaround Monday, Harden looked good, including throwing an alley-oop to himself off the backboard and emphatically dunking it. Philadelphia, however, chose to be cautious and held Harden out for one more game before bringing him back Wednesday night versus Dallas.

Harden indicated he’s going to have to continue to monitor and maintain his Achilles moving forward.

“After the game, I went into the weight room and did some tendon-loading and things like that, for the Achilles, my lower body, my calves, things like that,” Harden said. “Tomorrow I’ll do something, after the game [against Toronto], Friday I’ll do something, it’s just making sure I’m on it.”

The 76ers, meanwhile, are no longer on a three-game losing streak thanks to getting both Harden and Joel Embiid (right calf) back on the court. Embiid, who missed Monday’s MVP showdown with Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic, first tweaked his calf last Wednesday in Chicago, where he didn’t play in the second half of a blowout win. He returned to play versus Golden State on Friday and Phoenix on Saturday, before he was ruled out shortly after shootaround Monday.

Prior to Wednesday’s game, however, Embiid went through his pregame workout without incident, and he then went on to help Philadelphia go on a 16-5 run over the final seven minutes to seal the win, finishing with 25 points and 9 rebounds in 33 minutes.

After the game, Embiid was asked whether missing Monday’s game could have an effect on his hopes of winning the Most Valuable Player award this year, after finishing as runner-up to Jokic each of the past two years. And while Embiid said not playing against Jokic was a “huge bummer,” he said missing the game was done with a bigger goal in mind: giving Philadelphia its best opportunity at having him enter the playoffs healthy for a deep postseason run.

“I don’t care,” Embiid said. “It’s all about the playoffs. If one game is going to hurt anybody’s chances, then I guess everybody should be out of it. We all have bad games. Guys miss matchups — that’s not the first time. And it’s not really a matchup about me and Nikola. He’s a great player. [An] amazing player, like I always say. Back-to-back MVPs, he’s one of the best players in the league and I’m a huge fan. Not playing against him was a huge bummer.

“But there’s a bigger goal in sight. That’s to make sure we’re healthy for the playoffs. I got nothing to prove. The last matchup, we won and I had whatever I had. And to go out there and say I’m scared after what I did the last time is stupid.

“Like I said, I don’t care if I win it or not. I’m just focused on trying to win a championship, and whatever happens, happens. If I win, great. And if I don’t win anything, I don’t care.”

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