Eastern Notes: Harden, Sixers, J. Smith, Oladipo, Bucks

James Harden‘s effort level came under scrutiny during his final games in Brooklyn, but he appears more motivated to keep his foot on the gas pedal for his new team. As Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes, Harden raved about the environment in Wells Fargo Center on Thursday after making his home debut with the Sixers, calling it “exciting” to play in front of the Philadelphia fans.

“The love, the fans, it feels like home. Just the love, the support, man, from looking around, hearing, ‘We love you, James,'” Harden said. “That right there makes me go out and play harder, and I just wanted to do whatever it takes to get the win.”

While the Sixers have looked great since Harden made his debut last Friday, two of their three wins have come against a reeling Knicks team. With matchups against Cleveland, Miami, Chicago, and Brooklyn up next on the schedule, the 76ers will face a tougher test as they look to continue developing chemistry and push for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Every game for us is gonna be tough,” Harden said, per Bontemps. “We’re new, we’re fairly new, we’re still learning each other. Every game is going to be a learning experience for us, and we’ve got to just find ways to continue to chip away, continue to get better, win or lose. Obviously it’s better when you win to figure it out, but it’s going to be great tests for us and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Here’s more from around the East:

  • Pacers center Jalen Smith was fined $20K by the NBA for “directing profane language toward a game official,” the league announced on Wednesday. Smith was ejected from the game as a result of the incident, which took place during the third quarter of Indiana’s loss to Orlando on Monday.
  • Heat guard Victor Oladipo has returned to the team after taking part in three practices this week with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s G League affiliate, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. The Heat still haven’t provided an update on Oladipo’s potential season debut, but Chiang confirms that the club is hoping he’ll be able to play within the next couple weeks, as ESPN reported over the weekend.
  • After coming out of the trade deadline with three open roster spots, the Bucks filled two of them with former Nets, and both DeAndre’ Bembry and Jevon Carter have given Milwaukee a boost with their intensity and versatility on defense, says Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “It’s fun, man,” Carter said after Monday’s game. “I was telling the guys … I haven’t played this hard in I don’t know how long. … Just being out there playing with a team that’s locked in defensively is just, for me, it’s just fun to be a part of, honestly. That’s really all I can say, I’m just having fun.”
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