The Philadelphia 76ers have found themselves in a holding pattern of sorts as they look to stay afloat in the absence of injured All-Stars Ben Simmons (back) and Joel Embiid (shoulder).
While Embiid is due back soon, there is still plenty of mystery surrounding Simmons' injury and his potential to return this season, while Josh Richardson has also missed the past three games with a concussion.
The 76ers are currently 38-26 sitting in the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and pending a miraculous late-season run, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are the most likely teams waiting for them in the first round - without home-court advantage.
The shining light in their torrid run of injuries over the back half of the season has been the re-emergence of Tobias Harris, who has carried the 76ers offence - looking a lot more like the player they traded for last season and signed to a massive contract extension this past offseason.
Alongside Simmons, Embiid and Al Horford, Harris has to pick his spots to impose himself on games - oftentimes relegated to a catch-and-shoot option. Not to say it's not a role he excels in, but the added offensive responsibility for the versatile forward is paying dividends already as he continues to get in reps as the team's No.1 option for now.
Over the past five games without Simmons and Embiid, Harris has upped his production across the board, averaging 25.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and four assists per game, shooting 51.4% from the floor and 43.3% from 3.
The 76ers have gone 2-3 in those games and 4-5 in the nine games Simmons has missed.
While they're keeping pace with the pack, they're not making any inroads into climbing up the standings and with just 18 regular-season games to go, time is their enemy as they await a return to full health.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for Harris is how he's getting his points. With 114 of his 284 assisted field goals coming from Ben Simmons, of late and out of necessity, Harris is creating off the dribble more, getting inside and exploiting smaller defenders while making quicker decisions with the ball in his hands.
Following an encouraging road win over the Sacramento Kings, who have been one of the best teams in the league out of the All-Star break, Harris - who closed out the game with some big shots down the stretch - credited that shift in mindset for his recent jump in productivity.
"I thought today I did a good job of just going out and playing free, playing with just that energy and that flow and just fueling off of my confidence," Harris said after the win.
"I had it from the beginning of the game and just kept it up throughout the whole game."
.@tobias31 hit 'em with it.- Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 6, 2020
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While it's hard for Harris to get the kind of looks he wants inside with Simmons, Embiid and Horford occupying those spaces in the paint, plays like this against the Warriors show how damaging he can be from close-range due to his combination of size and shooting touch.
Feed the man.- Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 8, 2020
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After an up-and-down season with their notable struggles on the road (10-24), the 76ers ideally want this stretch of the season to catch some rhythm ahead of the playoffs with a healthy roster. However, this patch of increased offensive responsibility for Harris could be a blessing in disguise.
The hope is that this version of Harris will be closer to what they get in the postseason, even with the return of Simmons and Embiid.
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