Nuggets at 76ers preview: Tank tour 2013 continues ...

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

The Nuggets' six-game roadie continues at Philadelphia on Saturday night against yet another Eastern Conference team hoping to be really, really bad this season.

Game 20: 2013-2014 NBA Season
Denver Nuggets (1982 - 1993)
@
Philadelphia 76ers (1978 - 1997)
11-8 (5-6 road)
Series 0-0
7-13 (6-5 home)
December 7th, 2013
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
5:00 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM
Starters
Ty Lawson PG Tony Wroten
Randy Foye SG Hollis Thompson
Wilson Chandler SF Evan Turner
Kenneth Faried PF Thaddeus Young
J.J. Hickson C Spencer Hawes
Notes
Denver Stiffs Blogs Liberty Ballers
Danilo Gallinari (ACL), JaVale McGee (stress fracture, leg) are both out, Ty Lawson (hamstring) is a game-time decision Injuries Michael Carter-Williams (knee) is a game-time decision, Arnett Moultrie (ankle), Nerlens Noel (knee) are out
The 76ers have lost 3 of their last 5 home games against the Nuggets after winning 25 of the first 34. Stat Spencer Hawes played well against the Nuggets last season, averaging 16.5 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.5 apg and 4.5 blocks in two games.

Our Denver Nuggets are suddenly making crappy Eastern Conference teams look better than they actually are. On what could have been an eastern barnstorming tour for the purposes of hoarding much-needed wins for a late season playoff push, the Nuggets have now dropped two straight with losses at Cleveland and, most recently, at Boston last night.

While I was optimistic that Nuggets might continue their five-game winning streak to 11 with this six-game Leastern Conference roadie, I didn't actually expect them to win every game. I expected them to win at Toronto, Brooklyn (why not, everyone else does), Boston and Washington and wouldn't have been surprised with losses at Cleveland and against tonight's opponent, Philadelphia - i.e. I thought the back-to-backs might trip the Nuggets up. But with last night's loss, I fear a third straight could come tonight in Philly.

Why?

Because a funny thing happened on the way to the Philadelphia 76ers attempting one of the NBA's biggest tank jobs since the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets: they play hard at home. Really hard.

Knowing their franchise was going nowhere, 76ers management made a decision last summer to blow the whole thing up. Literally. In one summer, out was Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright, Damien Wilkins, Nick Young, All-Star Jrue Holiday and head coach Doug Collins, and in was an assortment of high draft picks, young players, cheap contracts and former San Antonio Spurs assistant Brett Brown as head coach. The 76ers suddenly resembled nothing of the team that competed deep in the 2011 playoffs.

And in somewhat similar fashion to those 17-win 2002-03 Nuggets, this collection of young nobodies in Philadelphia play really hard almost every night ... and especially at home. Brown deserves credit for at least instilling a culture of effort, and rookies Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel (being held out for the season for an extra lottery ping pong ball or two) and second-year man Tony Wroten are giving 76ers fans many reasons to be optimistic about their future. Which is precisely why I'm concerned about the Nuggets playing at Philly on the second of a back-to-back.

The last time these two teams played, the Denver Nuggets pulled off a thrilling victory at Pepsi Center that they had no business winning. NO BUSINESS!! Back in March, while riding a 13-game winning streak, our Nuggets hosted a severely depleted 76ers team and found themselves down 5 points with less than 10 seconds to play. But then Corey Brewer hit a prayer three-pointer with 9.2 seconds left, the Nuggets followed that by fouling Evan Turner - who missed two free throws - and then Brewer attempted another three-pointer with about 2 seconds left only to be fouled by Wilkins. 3 made free throws by Brewer later and the Nuggets eked out a 101-100 victory and a 14th straight win.

Entering tonight's affair, one has to hope the Nuggets won't need that level of luck to secure a victory. But they could certainly use a W. In the brutal Western Conference, every loss could be the difference between making the playoffs and missing the post-season altogether. And our Nuggets aren't playing for the tank like these Eastern Conference squads are, they are playing for playoff experience.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) Who guards Michael Carter-Williams?
IF the presumed Rookie of the Year plays, who on the Nuggets will guard him? At a super athletic and fast 6'6", Carter-Williams is too big for Ty Lawson, way too big for Nate Robinson and too athletic and fast for Andre Miller. Perhaps Wilson Chandler will get the call.

2) How fast can you go?
This 76ers team leads the NBA in pace while the Nuggets rank 7th. Unfortunately for the 76ers, their rapid pace usually works against them as they give up an NBA-high 110.6 ppg. The second closest team, Brooklyn, gives up 103.4.

3) Ty Lawson's FG%
In 6 of the Nuggets' 8 losses, Lawson has shot less than 50%. And in many cases, way less. Lawson has to get his field goal percentage way up if the Nuggets are to win in Philly ... that's if he plays, of course.

Scouting the 76ers ...

76ers Non-Stiffs

-Michael Carter-Williams: Other than shooting poorly and turning the ball over too much (not atypical for a rookie), Carter-Williams has been phenomenal this season when healthy. Averaging 17.7 ppg, 7.3 apg, 5.8 rpg and 3.1 spg are numbers that would make Fat Lever proud.

-Evan Turner: It's been a long time coming, but this former second-overall pick is having a terrific season by posting over 20 ppg to go along with almost 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Couldn't be happier for Turner who many had written off as a bust just a year or so ago.

-Spencer Hawes: How many 7 footers (who aren't from Europe) are among the NBA's best three-point shooters? Hawes is making 44.7% of his three's and recently made one of the best clutch shots of this young NBA season in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Final Thought ...

Can you believe a quarter of the 2013-14 NBA season is almost over?! But 20 games into the 2013-14 Nuggets season, I'm still not sure who these Nuggets are. Are they the team that ably defeated the Mavericks and Timberwolves on the road? Or the team that has dropped too many games to garbage teams? We might need 20 more games to find out.

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