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Preview: Nuggets take on Sixers in Denver

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Joel Embiid and the Sixers come to town in an interesting rematch of bigs.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets offense is humming right now, and it’s something the Philadelphia 76ers have not seen before.

The Nuggets have won five of their last seven games going into a matchup against the Sixers on Friday night, which should be a very intriguing battle of the bigs. The last time the Nuggets faced the Sixers was in a matchup on December 5th, and neither Jokic or Gary Harris participated in the game. Many players played major roles in that game, and the Nuggets will need to put together another team effort if they want to win again.

The big question will be what the rotation looks like in this game. Jusuf Nurkic and Kenneth Faried both started, and Darrell Arthur came off the bench to help bother Embiid in a major way. Now that the Nuggets are playing smaller, it will be interesting to see how the Nuggets approach a game in which every front court player has a claim to play.

The fact of the matter: this is the type of game that the Nuggets have previously not shown up for beforehand, or they have made closer than they should have. Against a shorthanded Los Angeles Clippers team and a bad Minnesota Timberwolves team, they nearly gave up the lead in both. Against the Sixers previously, the Nuggets kept the game close through a collection of turnovers and poor decision making. Time will tell how the Nuggets react to a game they are clearly favored in, but with their new look lineup, they should excel.

The Basics

Who: Philadelphia 76ers (7-24) vs Denver Nuggets (14-18)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to Watch/listen: Altitude TV and Altitude radio AM 950

Rival blog: Liberty Ballers

Position Nuggets Sixers Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay T.J. McConnell Nuggets
SG Gary Harris Nik Stauskas Nuggets
SF Danilo Gallinari Robert Covington Nuggets
PF Wilson Chandler Ersan Illyasova Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Joel Embiid Nuggets
Bench Jameer Nelson, Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic Hollis Thompson, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel Nuggets

Injury Report: Sergio Rodriguez - out (ankle), Gerald Henderson - out (hip), Richaun Holmes - doubtful (concussion protocol)

What to watch: Big man rotation for both teams

The Nuggets’ rotation is coming into focus after changing the starting lineup, and it’s a reasonably good one. The starters will play the first six minutes, then Kenneth Faried will come in for Wilson Chandler, and Jameer Nelson, Will Barton, and Jamal Murray will soon follow. Last game, the Nuggets decided to utilize Jusuf Nurkic in the second quarter instead of Faried to counter the size of the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s likely that Nurkic will participate in this game as well due to the three headed monster that is the Sixers’ center rotation.

As for the Sixers, they are without debatably their second best big man in Richaun Holmes, and their best player in Embiid has a minutes restriction. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor are an enigma, and nobody REALLY knows who’s going to play how many minutes. While the Nuggets have developed a semblance of consistency in their front court, injuries and forced decisions have prevented the Sixers from doing so. This is a matchup in which the talent is close to even, but the effectiveness advantage will likely go to Denver based on stability, which is weird to say.

Prediction: Nuggets 107 - Sixers 99

I see the new style of offense the Nuggets employ giving problems to the Sixers. Joel Embiid can certainly defend the perimeter, but he’s at his best when he’s patrolling the paint. The Sixers don’t have the guards and forwards capable of preventing penetration for 48 minutes, and Jokic will likely rack up assists and rebound put-backs as the game goes on. On defense, Denver will likely double Embiid, and while they have to be careful who they double off of, I doubt Embiid handles pressure the same way Karl-Anthony Towns did last game.

Opening thought: Jusuf Nurkic’s role going forward

Nurkic recently said that he wasn’t very happy with his situation on the team, according to our good friend Harrison Wind at BSN Denver. The article can be found here, and it’s pretty enlightening. The Nuggets have played better over the last seven games, but it’s come at the expense of Nurkic’s spot in the rotation. Nobody knows exactly whether Nurkic will enter the rotation in a more permanent facet or if he’s simply a matchup player going forward. Whatever the case may be, I’m interested if the next few games of physical big man rotations will be enough to quench Nurkic’s thirst for minutes going forward. He will either continue to be a professional about the situation..or he will not. If Nurkic pulls a Nerlens Noel and helps contribute to a toxic environment, it will be difficult to retain him long term, regardless of whether the Nuggets want him or not.