PHILADELPHIA — Doc Rivers is learning a lot these days. He doesn’t really have a choice.
Having coached 10-time All-Star James Harden for three games with the Philadelphia 76ers, including Harden’s home debut in a 123-108 win over the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Rivers is figuring out how to best utilize Harden with and without star center Joel Embiid.
Harden helped the 38-23 Sixers overcome a sluggish first half with 26 points, nine assists and nine rebounds Wednesday, while Embiid had 27 points and 12 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey continues to flourish alongside Harden, as he contributed 25 points, making it three straight contests in which all three have accumulated at least 20 points.
Rivers is also determining which combinations work best together in the wake of Harden’s Feb. 10 acquisition in the Ben Simmons trade, and who his backup center and guards will be in the postseason with only 21 contests remaining.
It’s safe to say Rivers is early in the process of putting together his playoff rotation. After starters Harden, Embiid, Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and Tobias Harris, figure Danny Green, Georges Niang and the backup center TBA make it eight guys getting regular minutes. The final spot, assuming Rivers goes with nine, could be determined between Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz.
Korkmaz has essentially been in a season-long shooting slump, hitting just 29.6% of his 3-pointers while not being an especially good defender. He was scoreless in 14 minutes during Sunday’s road win over the Knicks and struggled again in five first-half minutes Wednesday (0-for-2 with a turnover), drawing boos from some fans.
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“He’s just got to play himself out of it,” Rivers said. “There’s no secret to it. He goes in and out. I talked to him (Wednesday) about being a confident shooter. You have to be willing to miss four and five in a row and believe the next one’s going in because I put the time in to know that it’s going to go in. That’s what shooters do.”
For his part, Korkmaz said, “I just need to get going and keep going.”
Milton (28.1% on 3s) is also shooting below average from the perimeter. He had four points in seven first-half minutes Sunday but didn’t get off the bench in the second half as Rivers shortened his rotation from 10 to nine. Milton was the 10th man Wednesday and gave the Sixers a first-half boost with a pair of driving baskets and a steal, then took Korkmaz’s minutes after intermission.
“It’ll evolve,” Rivers said of his rotation. “We pretty much know the two groups that we want on the floor, at least as far as (playing alongside) Joel and Tyrese, and James and Tobias. We may even change that. We’re going to try different things. When it gets deeper (in the regular season), we may shorten it.”
Veteran Paul Millsap served unremarkably as the primary backup big man in the last three games, chipping in nine points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes.
“He’s another guy who’s played three games and knows very little of what we’re doing,” Rivers said. “He has a pretty high basketball IQ and does some pretty good things. I think rebounding-wise, overall, he’s been pretty good. He’s a physical player. I’m not that concerned by it now.”
Another veteran, Willie Cauley-Stein, who is in the midst of a 10-day contract, has yet to get a meaningful look. Second-year pro Paul Reed is also in the reserve center mix, and DeAndre Jordan, who Rivers coached with the Clippers, was waived by the Lakers on Tuesday and could potentially be an option in Philadelphia.
“We have a plethora of guys now, hopefully,” Rivers said. “We just got to find out who fits the group when Joel’s off the floor. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. Between Paul and Paul and Willie and if we get someone else — it may be a committee, which I can tell you upfront it’s the last thing I want. But if that’s the way we would have to do it, that’s the way we would have to do it.”
The Sixers head into a telling stretch over the next eight days as they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, visit the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat on Saturday evening, host the Chicago Bulls on Monday, and then the Brooklyn Nets come to town March 10.
Rivers and the Sixers’ goal is to win as many of them as possible while continuing to collect information that will result in determining the playoff rotation by mid-April.
Follow Tom Moore on Twitter @TomMoorePhilly.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Sixers: James Harden shines again in Philadelphia home debut