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Preview: Denver Nuggets take on weakened Philadelphia 76ers

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Can the Nuggets finish the week strong against a quality opponent that’s missing their best players?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have ridden a very strong first half of the season to the second best record in the Western Conference. Now as they charge through the second half, for the first time this season the Nuggets look to be pretty much all hands on deck. Will Barton returned to the starting lineup last night after injuring his abdomen in the second game of the season. Gary Harris and Paul Millsap are likewise fully back from their injuries and tonight Nikola Jokic returns from a one game suspension. Despite a relatively clean bill of health, it would appear that the Nuggets still have a tall task tonight with the Philadelphia 76ers in town.

The Sixers are currently the fourth seed in the East and are considered one of the young upcoming teams in the NBA much like the Nuggets. They are led by a trio of star players: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the recently acquired Jimmy Butler. While they’re have been some ups and downs making it all work, Pgilly is still considered a strong contender to represent the East in the NBA Finals. Luckily for the Nuggets, the Sixers are a shell of their normal selves tonight. Embiid is out and Butler is unlikely to play so they’ll have only Simmons to deal with. Former Nugget Wilson Chandler will also not play tonight. Denver should look to take full advantage of a game that has anomalously swung strongly in their favor.

The Basics

Who: Philadelphia 76ers (32-17) at Denver Nuggets (32-15)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW app and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival blog: Liberty Ballers

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Sixers Advantage
Position Nuggets Sixers Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Ben Simmons Sixers
SG Gary Harris J.J. Redick Nuggets
SF Will Barton Corey Brewer Nuggets
PF Paul Millsap Jonah Bolden Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Mike Muscala Nuggets
Bench Mason Plumlee, Malik Beasley, Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez T.J. McConnell, Landry Shamet, Amir Johnson, Furkan Korkmaz Nuggets

Injured players: Jamal Murray - game time decision (ankle), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr - out (hip), Jimmy Butler - game time decision (wrist), Joel Embiid - out (rest), Wilson Chandler - out (rest), Justin Patton - out (foot), Zhaire Smith - out (foot), Markelle Fults - out (shoulder)

Key Matchup: Paul Millsap vs Ben Simmons

Though Simmons technically plays point guard, with his size and ability I expect Millsap to get the task of defending the Australian phenom. Oddly, this is a game where Denver would have great use for a guy like Chandler who’s got the size and speed to at least keep up with Simmons. If the Nuggets do go with Millsap on Simmons it’ll be interesting to see how he stays with the foot speed of Simmons and how the Nuggets adjust to not having Millsap camped out near the lane with those active hands as much. Perhaps the best way to slow down Simmons will be to make him work extra hard on the other side of the court. I don’t anticipate he’ll defend Millsap, it seems far more advantageous to start Jonah Bolden for Chandler tonight and use him to body up Millsap while Simmons defends one of Denver’s smaller wings. Whether that’s Will Barton, Gary Harris or Jamal Murray, they’ll need to make Simmons work every second on defense.

What to watch for: let Ben get his

Simmons is pretty much the only weapon the Sixers have going tonight. Sure there’s still some solid role players that are going to be out there but with no Embiid and likely no Butler, Simmons is the guy who’s at the top of the list to worry about. Denver just has to make sure he doesn’t kill them and then take care of business on the other players and they should be fine. If Simmons goes for 25-12-8 then fine. Just don’t let J.J. Redick shoot 5-7 from three point range and get 23 points. Don’t let Corey Brewer randomly score 17 against you. The talent edge should overwhelmingly be in Denver’s favor tonight and they need to take advantage.

Opening thought: fatigue shouldn’t be a factor

The Nuggets played last night and typically when facing a high quality team on the second night of a back to back the expectations are low. However, the Nuggets are rolling into this SEGABABA in about as good of shape as you possibly can. Their star player did not play last night, not because of injury though, so he should be 100% fresh and ready to go. All of their other starters spent the 4th quarter of the game last night resting on the bench and its a home back to back so there were no 4am arrivals at the hotel or any other travel related challenges. As far as I’m concerned, this is a regular game on the schedule against a weakened opponent and anything but a win will be a letdown.