Atlantic Notes: Harden, Achiuwa, Pritchard, Quickley

James Harden was brilliant in his Sixers debut Friday night, but he couldn’t escape questions about whether his reputation has suffered after issuing trade demands to two teams in 13 months, writes Brian Hall of The Associated Press. The former MVP put up a near triple-double with 27 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds in a win at Minnesota, but the postgame conversation centered around the circumstances that led to his departure from Brooklyn.

“Just because the current situation happened, whatever happened, happened,” Harden said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad teammate. Me, personally, I feel like I needed to do what’s best for my career, and help myself and be happy. It doesn’t harp on whether I’m a bad teammate or not.”

Sixers players and coaches are extremely happy to have Harden on board. Doc Rivers raved about how Harden has raised the level of communication since arriving, and Joel Embiid noticed an immediate difference in the quality of shots that he’s getting.

“I’ve never been wide open like this in my life,” Embiid said. “Seriously, the passing, like I wasn’t even expecting it and it was just coming.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Although the Raptors were blown out Saturday for the second straight night, Precious Achiuwa continues to be impressive, notes Michael Grange of The 22-year-old big man, who was acquired from the Heat in the Kyle Lowry trade, put up 21 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench. He could be on the way to replacing Khem Birch in the starting lineup, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports.
  • The Celtics‘ decision to keep Payton Pritchard at the trade deadline is paying off, says Trevor Hass of The second-year guard played an important role in Saturday’s win at Detroit, delivering 19 points and six assists in 27 minutes, the most he has logged in two months. “My confidence never should waver,” Pritchard said. “For me, it’s just staying ready and trying to find little ways to help this team win. That’s my job, so I’m going to keep doing it.”
  • The slumping Knicks could use a boost from Immanuel Quickley, who is mired in a long shooting slump, writes Peter Botte of The New York Post. Quickley, who’s expected to become a primary ball-handler off the bench with Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker both unavailable, is shooting 30.7% from the field and 26.6% from three-point range in his last 19 games. “Teammates tell me all the time, sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t, but you just gotta keep the main thing, which is playing defense every night, playing hard every night and just bringing other things to the table,” Quickley said. “You can do other things good when you don’t shoot well. You can still bring other things to win.” 
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