The Denver Nuggets roll into Philadelphia looking to keep their fading playoff hopes alive with a win against the 76ers. The path is still there for Denver; some key Western Conference rivals have finally decided to lose in the last game or two. None of that matters if Denver cannot finish off these next three road games, and tonight’s in Philadelphia might be the easiest.
Don’t think that means it’ll be easy, though. Denver will still be without Gary Harris, will need someone to defend a 6’10 point guard and someone else to handle an 8’7 center. It’s the first game of a back-to-back tonight, and tomorrow’s game against the Toronto Raptors won’t exactly be a cakewalk either. The Nuggets need this one - here’s hoping the come out from the jump like they know that too.
Who: Denver Nuggets (40-33) at Philadelphia 76ers (42-30)
When: 5:00 PM MT
Where: Wells Fargo Center
How to watch: Altitude
Rival blog: Liberty Ballers
Injury Report: Gary Harris - out (knee); Tyler Lydon - out (knee); Markelle Fultz - out (shoulder, in theory); Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot - out (knee)
Three Things to Watch
Which team’s weakness shows up? The 76ers have struggled to beat winning teams recently, although they overcame that against the Minnesota Timberwolves to do Denver a favor. They’ve had a great March, beating the teams they are supposed to beat, and they are favored against the Nuggets as well. Denver’s a winning team with a terrific offense, though, and whether Philadelphia can slow Denver’s playmaking is up for debate.
The Nuggets have been abjectly terrible on defense - that’s certainly not up for debate. They are missing Gary Harris and the only teams they’ve stepped on lately and put away early are two tanking squads in the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings. The 76ers may not be able to stuff Denver’s offense, but Denver probably can’t pull away from Philadelphia even if they do hit on all cylinders. Which playoff caliber team falters down the stretch will play a big part tonight.
Embiid vs. Jokic. Let’s face it, this is always going to be part of the fun of a Denver / Philly matchup, but really this is gonna be young stars vs young stars. The Nuggets lost to the 76ers in December when Embiid did not play, and Ben Simmons scored only 6 points. Simmons has triple-doubles in 4 of his last 7 games, and is peaking at the right time for Philly, while Jamal Murray has scored 20+ in 5 of his last 8 games (and never under 16 in that stretch) but the show has to be the centers. Embiid is definitely the stronger center, but he is against virtually every player in the league. Both centers can hit threes, and Nikola Jokic has the passing to make defending the Nuggets hard on anyone. If no one can stop Embiid on his way to the rack, though, or keep him off the boards, it’ll be a long night for the visitors.
Who wants it more? The 76ers are trying to retain home-court for their first round playoff matchup. The Nuggets just want to get in. Which team is gonna get on the ground for loose balls, hustle up second chance points, force the other squad to foul them? The two teams aren’t that far apart in talent or experience, so hustle and want-to may make all the difference.
Prediction: Denver desperately needs this game. Since I expect the game to be close, that means tomorrow’s game against the Raptors will be even harder to win, and that means Denver has to go all-in for this one. That said, I’ll say the 76ers win 111-106. Needing it and getting it done are two different things. The Nuggets are going to have to prove they can do the latter tonight.