J.B. Bickerstaff believes James Harden and Joel Embiid manipulate rules to draw fouls

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff believes that Philadelphia 76ers stars James Harden and Joel Embiid manipulate the rules to help them draw fouls.

Bickerstaff, who spent time coaching Harden in Houston, explained that defenders have to be disciplined to avoid fouling the two Philly stars.

“Not taking anything away from those guys,” Bickerstaff told reporters. “They’re phenomenal basketball players and they know how to play within the rules. I was with James for four years in Houston, and he’s a master at manipulating the rules, and Joel does the same. So you have to be extremely disciplined, but even then they find a way to create that contact and draw a foul.”

The Cavs dropped their game against the Sixers on Wednesday night, falling four games behind Philly for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

In that matchup, Harden shot 12 shots from the line, making nine of them on his way to a 28-point night. Embiid also had double-digit free-throw attempts, going 10-for-10 at the charity stripe in the win. He finished the game with 36 points and 18 rebounds.

Embiid’s success was partly due to the fact that the Cavs didn’t have Jarrett Allen in this game due to an eye injury. That left Evan Mobley as the primary defender on Embiid on Wednesday night.

There’s no doubt that Harden and Embiid are masters at drawing fouls, and it makes things tough for even an elite defense like the Cavs’.

This season, Embiid is second in the NBA with 11.9 free-throw attempts per game. Only Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo attempts more shots from the charity stripe per game this season.

Harden, who is a bit further down the list in 17th, averages 6.7 shots from the line per night this season.

What makes things even more frustrating for opposing defenses is that both players are terrific from the line. Harden is shooting 86.8 percent from the free-throw line this season, and Embiid isn’t far behind at 85.6 percent.

Luckily for Bickerstaff and the Cavs, the team is unlikely to face Philly in the first round of the playoffs, barring an unexpected collapse by one of the teams. Cleveland, if it holds on to the No. 4 seed, will likely take on the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or Miami Heat in the first round.

If the Cavs and Sixers meet in the postseason, it will be interesting to see how Bickerstaff alters his game plan to try to avoid sending Philly’s two stars to the line.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.