In the final game of the Philadelphia 76ers West-Coast trip, the team takes on Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in a 9 o’clock matchup.
The Sixers will look to bounce back after they appeared to run out of steam in the loss to the Clippers. After two days of rest, the team will look to get back on track and notch another in the win column.
With a record of 28-18, the Nuggets sit at fifth place in the Western Conference. Denver averages 115.8 points per game which ranks 4th in the league in scoring. The Nuggets have been a hot team of late, winning 11 of their last 14 and coming off a 126-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
They are led by Nikola Jokic who averages 26.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game. Jokic has climbed into the MVP race himself, especially given the injuries to Joel Embiid and LeBron James. The offense runs through the three-time all-star and is also a reason why the team ranks 29th in the NBA in pace. Despite his 6’11 frame, Jokic is seen carrying the ball up and serving as the primary distributor on a regular basis.
Outside of Jokic, the Nuggets lean on Jamal Murray for 21 points per game as well as an exciting array of young players. Michael Porter Jr, Will Barton, and JaMychal Green are all a threat to get hot on a nightly basis and must be accounted for by the Sixers defense.
The Nuggets were one of the most active teams at the trade deadline and walked away with Aaron Gordon as their biggest prize. After averaging 14.6 points per game in the first half of the season with the Magic, Gordon was traded for the Nuggets in exchange for Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, and a protected first-round pick. It was a relief for Gordon to get out of the uneasy tensions in Orlando and he provides a new dimension to the Nuggets roster. The Nuggets also added JaVale McGee to provide more depth at center.
As far as injuries go, the Nuggets will be without Monte Morris and Greg Whittington in this one. Gary Clark, who was also added at the deadline, is listed as day-to-day as he gets settled with the team and missed the previous matchup against the Hawks. Monte Morris is a noteworthy absence for Denver, as he is averaging 10.4 points and playing 27.2 minutes per game for the Nuggets this season.
Picking up a win tonight would be a huge statement for the Sixers and put an exclamation point on a successful road trip. While injuries to Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis have made the trip less daunting than was expected, this still has not been an easy stretch of games.
One of the reasons for the Sixers’ recent success has been the uptick in production from Danny Green. Over the past 6 games along, Green is averaging 17.2 points per game while making 4.8 threes per game and shooting 53% from beyond the arc. The veteran guard has established himself as a key member of the Sixers supporting cast and he has played a huge role in adding the points that would be missing in Joel Embiid’s absence.
Tobias Harris has continued to be a model of consistency and his scoring average has climbed to 20.9 points per game. While he should not be criticized for his 29 point performance in the Clippers game, the Sixers will continue to lean on him as their number one scoring option. One notable lack of production has been seen in Mike Scott who scored just 3 points in his 29 minutes of play last game. Despite being relied on as a floor spacer, Scott shot 1-6 from beyond the arc.
While the Sixers will continue to be without Joel Embiid and George Hill, there is extremely positive news at the potential return of each of them. George Hill is expected to return from his thumb injury after the Sixers road trip and could potentially play this weekend. Joel Embiid has begun to increase his workload as he looks to return and Doc Rivers also hinted at a potential return this weekend as well.
Previous Matchup and Tonight’s Outlook
The Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets have matched up once already this season in what was one of the games the Sixers’ roster was greatly impacted by Covid. The 39-point performance from Tyrese Maxey was not enough to carry the Sixers to a win as the Nuggets won by a score of 115-103. The Sixers only had seven available players in this matchup and did a good job keeping the game competitive given the circumstances. This stretch of play the sixers were forced to push through also shifted the NBA’s plan of forcing teams to play shorthanded to being more lenient to cancelling games, which is a positive.
While they still are without Joel Embiid, the Sixers will be with a much more well-balanced roster for this matchup. Mike Scott has been looked at in the past 2 games to fill the starting center position, which could be a cause of concern for the Sixers.
It would likely be best served if the Sixers chose to use Ben Simmons as their primary defender against Jokic in order to disrupt their offense. Doc Rivers has been hesitant to task Ben with guarding an opposing star for major minutes due to concern for foul trouble, but this may be worth the risk rather than allowing Jokic to have his way and get going early.
The Denver Nuggets are 5 point favorites in this matchup and there is concern on how much life the Philadelphia 76ers have left in their legs on the tail-end of the road trip. The team will need to dig deep and find energy in order to overcome a solid Nuggets team.
Stopping Jokic must be priority number one for the team and some hot shooting early on would go a long way in the Sixers’ chances in this one.