Sure enough, although Harden hadn't missed any of the Rockets' first eight games this season, the team's Twitter account flashed the news at 6:19 p.m.: "James Harden will not play tonight . . ."
Welcome to the Wells Fargo Center, where the NBA's superstars come to rest their weary bodies - that is, if they bother to show up at all. Three times through nine games, the Sixers have faced an opposing team that decided to leave itself shorthanded by having one of its best players sit out.
The Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade didn't play against the Sixers in their season-opening win on Oct. 30, ostensibly because of a sore knee. And San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich held Tim Duncan out of Monday's game because . . . well, Popovich didn't offer an explanation, but the reason was easy enough to surmise: Duncan is 37, and Popovich wants him healthy and fresh for more consequential games later in the season.
Now, Harden. The Heat and Spurs each had played the night before they played the Sixers, and Wednesday's game was the front end of a back-to-back for the Rockets. So it's pretty clear what's happening here, and what's likely to keep happening this season.
The NBA's upper-echelon teams will look at the Sixers - a callow group presumed to be bound for the lottery - and say to themselves, We can give one of our top players the night off and probably still beat these guys. . . . Hey, D-Wade, take a load off. . . . Don't worry, Kevin. Russell can handle it by himself tonight. You just relax. . . . Here, KG, have a Pellegrino.
"I really don't care, to tell you the truth. Still got to play, right?" the Sixers' Evan Turner said. "It's a lose-lose situation. If you win, it's like, 'You didn't play them with Harden or whatever.' If you lose, it's, 'You guys lost without Harden.' It's whatever."
Turner's right, but short of NBA commissioner David Stern's delivering an edict demanding that the league's best teams start their best players, the Sixers have no choice but to live with the low esteem in which they're held.
Miami, San Antonio, Houston - these teams are keeping the long view in mind. They're just doing so at the Sixers' expense. This was a predictable ramification of the franchise's decision to rebuild, and anyone who buys a ticket to a Sixers game has to understand that the purchase comes with a calculated risk: A superstar might sit.
Still, this has to be vaguely insulting, doesn't it?
"We don't take it as an insult," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "We just coach how to play and play with a level of competitiveness and a physicality and tenacity and slowly groomed intellect on how you play an NBA opponent, following the scouting report. That's our mission, and it doesn't affect me at all, who walks out on the floor."
No, but it might affect the opponent. It sure seemed to Wednesday. Without Harden, the Rockets were rudderless on offense late in the game, squandering a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, setting the stage for James Anderson to flush a 24-foot three-pointer to tie the score at 106 with 6.9 seconds left in regulation, allowing the Sixers to pull away in overtime.
Anderson finished with 36 points, a career high. Turner had 23. Spencer Hawes had 18 points and nine rebounds and threw down a rebound dunk over Dwight Howard.
And look at this: The Sixers are 5-4 - just like the Houston Rockets - and they'll just have to keep doing what they're doing, playing with spunk and tenacity, defying those lowly expectations, shoving it back in the face of any team that dares to take them so lightly, until everyone around the NBA starts to get the point.