It's not often the 2015-16 Denver Nuggets roll into a contest as the team 20 games up in the standings on their opponent, but that's what tonight brings: a battered Denver squad welcoming in an equally-battered Philadelphia team that didn't have much talent it could spare in the first place. Both teams are top-five in the league in man-games lost to injury which means the starting lineups for both teams are a guesstimate, since either team could have injured players starting or starting players go down in warm-ups.
Regardless of the roster on the floor, each team is looking for some redemption after a miserable handful of games and for some bright spots down the stretch of a painful season.
|Philadelphia 76ers||Denver Nuggets||Advantage|
|SG||Isaiah Canaan||Gary Harris||Nuggets|
|SF||Hollis Thompson||Axel Toupane||76ers|
|PF||Jerami Grant||Darrell Arthur||Even|
|C||Nerlens Noel||Nikola Jokic||Nuggets|
|Bench||Elton Brand, Carl Landry, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Sonny Weems, Kendall Marshall||,|
Key Matchup: the sick vs. the lame. The Nuggets ran out of energy on their 1-4 Eastern road trip, wilting against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half on Monday en route to a blow-out. The 76ers played their fourth game in five nights, losing all four, and only managed 75 points against the Pacers. Something's got to give in this matchup of Stoppable Force vs. Movable Object.
If JaKarr Sampson can play with his shoulder injury (which according to coach Michael Malone is a matter of pain tolerance) I'm sure he'd love to put up a great performance against his old team. Hopefully he doesn't try to be a primary scorer if that happens. Denver has more scoring punch than Philadelphia, but has been known to have poor shooting nights (looking at you, Mudiay) so it's really a matter of who can get more out of their healthy players and which team wants it more.
Something to Watch: will the Nuggets try more big lineups? Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic have played just a handful of minutes together and they were not especially effective in those minutes, but against the 76ers the Nuggets would have the two biggest players on the court if Malone chooses to deploy them in concert. It's possible the Nuggets will go small to better match up with a team playing just one player taller than 6'9 (Noel), but there's also an opportunity to get that pairing more minutes together against a team that can't do much to stop them.
With Jokic getting more notice as a legit Rookie of the Year candidate and Malone finally able to get good minutes out of both of his tallest players, now is as good a time as any to put them together. Joffrey Lauvergne has been getting more minutes at power forward now that Nurkic is back in the rotation as well, so a bigger frontcourt is something the Nuggets need to learn to take advantage of. Denver also needs to figure out how to try out different matchups without treating live games as scrimmages, and this game is their best opportunity in a while to both experiment and win.
Prediction: The 76ers, in their fifth game in seven days, cannot keep up with the Denver bench pace at altitude nor fend off Denver's big men down low. Noel gets into foul trouble and Denver creates its own energy (because the Can will not be full to see Philly in a blizzard) to pull away at the end, 110-95.
Hopefully it will be more like the Charlotte game below than the Cleveland game, which we will not discuss.