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Preview: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers

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Two hard-luck teams in the middle of losing stretches try to turn around the trend

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have to shake off their recent blues as they try to right the ship in game 2 of their six game road trip, this one against the Philadelphia 76ers. I’d like to tout this matchup as a battle of up-and-comers, but right now the Nuggets vs. Sixers looks more like a battle of drowning teams in over their heads. The injury bug has bitten both teams fiercely, to be sure; at last count Philly was leading the league in man-games lost while Denver was 6th but gaining ground, as Nikola Jokic went down with a wrist injury just as Will Barton was returning.

Both teams will have to work out their awkward rotation issues and porous defenses as the season gets on, but with the 76ers having lost 6 straight and Denver losing 5 of its last 6, each team is looking at their opponent in this game as a slide-stopper.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (7-13) at Philadelphia 76ers (4-16)

When: 5:00PM MST

Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Philadelphia PA

How to watch/listen: Altitude and Altitude Radio AM 950

Rival blog: Liberty Ballers

Position Nuggets 76ers Advantage
PG Emmanuel Mudiay Sergio Rodriguez Sixers
SG Will Barton Gerald Henderson Nuggets
SF Danilo Gallinari Robert Covington Nuggets
PF Kenneth Faried Ersan Ilyasova Even
C Jusuf Nurkic Joel Embiid Sixers
Bench Wilson Chandler, Jamal Murray, Jameer Nelson, Darrell Arthur, Juancho Hernangomez Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, Sauce Castillo, Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes, TJ McConnell, Hollis Thompson Nuggets

Injured players: Nikola Jokic - questionable (wrist), Gary Harris - out (foot), Jerryd Bayless - questionable (wrist), Robert Covington - questionable (knee), Nerlens Noel - doubtful (knee), Ben Simmons - out (karma)

Three things to Watch:

  1. Does anyone want to play defense? The Nuggets have the fourth-worst scoring defense in the league, but Philly isn’t far behind (6th-worst). Denver gives up lay-ups like they’re fliers on a Vegas street corner, while Philly follows Denver’s lead in giving up two-point buckets to anyone who asks for them. Jahlil Okafor and Jusuf Nurkic haven’t deterred many people at the rim this year but one of these teams will have to find at least a quarter’s-worth of defense if they’d like to win. A quarter should do it.
  2. Who’s playing Center? Nikola Jokic will likely miss the game with his wrist injury. Jusuf Nurkic is healthy but played just 13 minutes against the Jazz - and this after a game earlier this season when he got Gobert into early foul trouble and forced a real shift of play-style that helped Denver. Joel Embiid is no joke, even on a slight minutes restriction, and as a legit 7-footer the Nuggets have only one comparably-sized player to put up against him: Nurkic. If Denver decides to go small at the 5-spot again for long stretches and pits Kenneth Faried’s speed and aggression against Embiid’s size and ability, coach Michael Malone may get more hate mail.
  3. Who wants to win? There have been times this season where both teams have struggled to find that inner fire, that will to win a game instead of just pray not to lose it. Mistakes down the stretch have hurt both teams, and whether that is because they are playing too tightly or they are executing too poorly is a matter for debate amongst both fan bases. Wilson Chandler and Will Barton have been on fire of late, but whether either man can help Denver overcome its fear of failure (that turns into actual failure) is anyone’s guess.

Prediction: Denver wins it 106-103 on some late-game miscues from the Sixers. That late-game mojo has to flip Denver’s way at some point, and Philly has its own execution demons to face. But just in case, have the alcohol handy. It may be an early drinking night.