What we learned about the Sixers in their win over the Nuggets

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Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid reacts after a call during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

This time last year, the Nuggets visited the Wells Fargo Center, and the hype around the matchup between Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić was astounding. The 2022-23 MVP race was just getting warmed up, and Embiid had to distinguish himself from Jokić when going head-to-head. One year later, it was the same story between the stars of the Sixers and Nuggets.

Joel Embiid guides sixers to win in clash of MVP titans

Ironically, the battle on Tuesday night between the 76ers and Nuggets almost mirrored the game last season: a hard-fought game, close in the fourth quarter, with the Sixers pulling away late. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Joel Embiid was as brilliant as he’s been all season.

Did he raise his level of play because his MVP rival was in town? It’s hard to say because Embiid has been a dominant scorer since October. Nonetheless, Embiid showed off his shooting touch and guard-like skills throughout the game. Jokic did his best to guard Embiid, but it was futile the way the Sixers big man was cooking.

Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic, left, goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Embiid torched defenders from the elbow, beyond the arc, and everywhere in between. His Eurostep around Jokic, which looked like a potential train wreck at first, amazed the packed arena and produced thunderous applause. 

Although Jokic did not have his usual assist total, he dominated on the boards. He also led his team in scoring the way Embiid did for the Sixers. Yet, Embiid’s 41-point double-double had an edge to it. It was another opportunity to show up his biggest threat toward another MVP award, and Embiid capitalized on the TNT televised game.

The exchange after the game between the two caught social media’s attention as Embiid whispered something in Jokic’s ear. From a distance, it appears the reigning MVP was humble in the way he embraced his opponent. Humility really became a story when Embiid was quoted as admitting that Jokic was the best player in the world during their hug.

Will it be all love next time they meet? We will see round two of this matchup on January 27th, when the Sixers visit Denver for an ABC televised game. 

Tobias Harris continues to shine in contract year

While some speculate that Tobias Harris is balling out recently because he’s in a contract year, others are just happy that he’s playing solid ball.

If the 76ers do not trade Harris before the deadline, he will be relied upon as a steady third scorer who can do a little bit of everything to help the Sixers win.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) goes in for a shot as Atlanta Hawks forward Jalen Johnson (1) defends during the first of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It’s been repeated over and over by Shaquille O’Neal that Tobias Harris is the key for the Sixers success. His perspective helps verify the idea that he has the talent and touches needed to contribute, but can he do it on the way to a title? Well, it looked that way on Tuesday night.

In 38 minutes, Harris scored 24 points, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out four assists. According to ESPN, in his last 10 games, Harris is averaging 20.8 points on 52 percent FG shooting and 36 percent from the 3-point line.

Harris seems to be on a roll, which is exactly what the 76ers need to keep up with Boston and Milwaukee in the east. If he continues to take high-quality shots, it can only help the Sixers. Against the Nuggets, he was perfect in the paint, going six for six. He took four 3-pointers, knocking down two corner threes in rhythm.

His play as of late shows tremendous confidence that matches his decisiveness. This version of Tobias Harris is the version Philly needs should he remain on the team past the trade deadline on February 9th.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum