Sixers take on Nuggets in a battle of two of the NBA’s top teams.

Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden, left, and Joel Embiid celebrate after a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Philadelphia 76ers continue their short homestand as the Denver Nuggets, the top-seed in the Western Conference, come to town. This game marks one of the NBA’s marquee matches that are a part of “rivalries week” as it will, or at least should, feature the Sixers’ Joel Embiid against the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić, the two favorites to win the MVP award this season.

Sixers vs. Nets game info

Who: Denver Nuggets (34-15) at Philadelphia 76ers (31-16)

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa.

When: 3:00 EST

Watch: ABC

For the Sixers

The Sixers are at home, where they’re 18-7 on the season to take on the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets and two-time defending MVP Nikola Jokic. The Sixers are coming off a win on Wednesday over the Brooklyn Nets 137-133. Center Joel Embiid, who’s jumped back into the MVP conversation this season, is listed as questionable with foot soreness. Against the Nuggets, being rested after a few days off, it would be surprising if Embiid isn’t out there to show up against Jokic and the Nuggets.

Since returning from a month-long injury in November, James Harden has been getting better and more fluid in playing alongside Embiid as their pick-and-roll game has become almost unstoppable. Embiid is currently the NBA scoring leader at 33.4 points per game and is putting up 9.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.7 blocks on the season. He’s been virtually unstoppable since Harden’s return, and it’s shown as the Sixers have climbed to the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

When guard Tyrese Maxey returned from injury, head coach Doc Rivers said they would feature a few different lineups based on the teams they were playing, but, as of recently, we’ve seen Maxey coming strictly off the bench with De’Anthony Melton starting. Melton has 19 points against the Nets and is seeming to find his rhythm again while Maxey had 27 points and is really taking to his role off the bench.

The Sixers had six players in double digits against the Nets, showing a more rounded team, while Harden, Embiid, and Maxey all were over 20 points. The team has been playing really well and getting contributions from more than just the big three. Tobias Harris is continuing a quietly good season, putting up 16.3 points per game. If the Sixers can get the kind of all-around performance that they had against the Nets, the Sixers could get a good win over the top team in the western conference.

For the Nuggets

Nikola Jokic is, again, putting up insane numbers this season. He’s averaging 25.1 points, 11 rebounds, and 9.9 assists on the season, with the only difference being that his teammates aren’t injured like last season, and he’s getting much more help. It’s helped the Nuggets to the leading spot inter-conference, and the way they’ve been playing the past two months, that doesn’t seem to be going away. The only team with a better winning percentage than the Nuggets .714 since December 1st is the Sixers, who are at .760 over the same time period.

This is truly a matchup of two of the top teams in the league and the two hottest in the league over the past two months. Jokic is physically a player that can stand with Embiid, although banging around in the low post isn’t really part of his game. Positioning, vision, talent, and basketball IQ are what set Jokic apart from most of his peers.

The Nuggets are coming off a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, 107-99, in which they were missing Jokic along with Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Michael Porter Jr. Despite that, the team held their own against the Bucks. Murray and Bruce Brown are both listed as questionable for the Sixers game, but Jokic and Caldwell-Pope are both listed as probable. It’s hard to imagine, after all the battles over who’s the better player the past few years, that Jokic would miss a chance to play against Embiid and the Sixers.

The Nuggets are well-rounded and feature seven players averaging more than ten points per game. Jamaal Murray is putting up 19.1 points per game this season, and forward Aaron Gordon has returned, healthy, and contributing 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. If Murray can’t play, which seems unlikely, the Nuggets will have to rely on a bench unit with Jeff Green and Ish Smith seeing more minutes.

What to expect

This is a big game for both teams. Depleted and playing against the Bucks, the Nuggets put up a good fight, but they’re going to have to show that they’re more than just a team that’s beating up on a weak Western Conference. The Sixers are riding high after their win over the Nets, proving that they’re a real contender and getting better with each game.

The battle of the MVP candidates will look like each game that they usually play. Both Jokic and Embiid will get their stats, but Embiid needs to have a top defensive game in order to put the Sixers over the top. If Harden and Maxey continue their usual play and Melton and Harris are able to get into rhythm, the sixers could run away with the game. More than likely, it’s going to be a fight until the end as the Nets game turned into.

Prediction: Sixers — 121 | Nuggets — 117