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Preview: Denver Nuggets face weakened Philadelphia 76ers

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The goal is simple, stop Ben Simmons

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After a quick trip up to old Minny to take on the Timberwolves, the Denver Nuggets are back at home to face what is arguably the brightest young core in the League in the Philadelphia 76ers. Overall the Nuggets have been riding high despite dropping their contest in Minnesota. They have won three of their last four games, including wins at the Portland Trail Blazers and at the Golden State Warriors, and in their losses they’ve looked resilient and have hung around until the end. In fact the last time the Nuggets were in a game that didn’t feel competitive was all the way back on December 4th when Denver got whooped by the Dallas Mavericks.

Normally, the 76ers would present a challenge that could lead to a blowout but there are two major factors working in the Nuggets favor: 1. the game is at home where the Nuggets are 12-3 and 2. the 76ers will be without star center Joel Embiid, and they are 1-7 in such scenarios. The loss of Embiid is truly a shame for Denver fans who only get to see this team once a year at home and will miss out on one of the more exciting young talents in the NBA. However, Philly stil has plenty of other fire power to offer including rookie 6’10” point guard Ben Simmons, sophomore Dario Saric and the do it all, one of the most underrated forwards Robert Covington. It will be a battle of two young cores down at the Pepsi Center tonight.

The Basics

Who: Philadelphia 76ers (15-19) at Denver Nuggets (19-16)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

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

Rival blog: Liberty Ballers

Position Nuggets 76ers Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Ben Simmons 76ers
SG Gary Harris J.J. Redick Nuggets
SF Wilson Chandler Robert Covington 76ers
PF Nikola Jokic Dario Saric Nuggets
C Mason Plumlee Amir Johnson Nuggets
Bench Will Barton, Trey Lyles, Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley Trevor Booker, T.J. McConnell, Jerryd Bayless, Richaun Holmes Even

Injured players: Malik Beasley - questionable (elbow), Juancho Hernangomez - questionable (illness), Paul Millsap - out (wrist), Robert Covington - questionable (finger), Justin Anderson - questionable (leg), Joel Embiid - out (rest), Furkan Korkmaz - out (foot), Markelle Fultz - out (shoulder)

Key matchup: Ben Simmons vs Wilson Chandler

Though Simmons is listed as the point guard for the 76ers, expect Wilson to be the guy who matches up with him throughout the night. Without Embiid, Simmons is the guy who has to carry the Sixers to a win if they are going to get one. His athleticism, ball handling skills and vision for a player who is 6’10” have drawn comparisons to LeBron James. While LeBron is obviously an incredibly high bench mark that no player should be measured against, the similarities between the two players games make the comparison understandable. Chandler is just a few games removed from an outstanding defensive effort against Kevin Durant and the Nuggets will need him to replicate that again tonight.

Key thing to watch for: lineups and rotations

With the Sixers starting Simmons at point guard, they make for one of the more difficult teams to match up with lineup wise. Gary Harris is likely going to have to spend time defending Covington (if he goes) which is a pretty favorable size match up for Philadelphia. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of minutes for Will Barton tonight to try to counteract some of that size that Philadelphia brings, and also to turn the tables and put the pressure on the Sixers bench when T.J. McConnell, who is a good 4” shorter than Barton, checks in.

Opening thought: shame not to see these two teams at full health

With Embiid, Markelle Fultz and maybe even Covington out tonight for the Sixers it makes the game a bit of a let down. The Nuggets and the Sixers are widely regarded as two teams with one of, if not the, best young cores in the league. Jokic vs Embiid has all the makings of a great matchup as does Fultz vs. Jamal Murray. Still, it will be exciting to watch what Simmons can do and we’ll at lest get a small glimpse into what this match up could be like in the future. It’s not entirely far fetched to believe these two teams could see each other in the Finals sometime in the 2020s.

Prediction: Nuggets 108 - 76ers 100