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Preview: Denver Nuggets face tall task in Philadelphia 76ers

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Tonight the Nuggets will get one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets have enjoyed a few days off after playing what was arguably their most complete game of the young season against the Miami Heat. For the first time in their seven contests so far, the Nuggets weren’t gutting it out until the final buzzer and instead were able to empty their bench and enjoy a blowout. Tonight they will have to get back on the horse though as one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, the Philadelphia 76ers, are in town.

Philly of course came agonizingly close to making the conference finals last year just like the Nuggets. The difference is Philly got beat by the eventual NBA Champion Toronto Raptors and in the most excruciating fashion possible as Kawhi Leonard ended their season on a buzzer beating corner two that seemingly touched every part of the rim before it went down. The Sixers retooled around stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in the offseason, allowing mercurial guard Jimmy Butler to go to Miami while bringing in ultimate big man swiss army knife Al Horford. With Simmons a full time point guard and Horford playing power forward next to Embiid, the Sixers make up the biggest starting lineup in the league, and one of the most talented to boot. Luckily for Denver, Simmons has been ruled out for tonight’s contest but that doesn’t mean the Sixers don’t remain one of the toughest matchups in the league.

The Basics

Who: Philadelphia 76ers (5-2) at Denver Nuggets (5-2)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to Watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio 92.5FM

Rival Blog: Liberty Ballers

Expected Matchups

Position Nuggets 76ers Advantage
Position Nuggets 76ers Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Raul Neto Nuggets
SG Gary Harris Josh Richardson Even
SF Will Barton Tobias Harris Even
PF Paul Millsap Al Horford Sixers
C Nikola Jokic Joel Embiid Even
Bench Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant Mason Plumlee Mike Scott, Matthisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, James Ennis III Nuggets

Injured players: Gary Harris - game time decision (ankle), Ben Simmons - out (shoulder), Shake Milton - out (knee)

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Joel Embiid

There’s no doubt what the key matchup is any time these two teams are together. While the debate can rage on about whether Jokic or Embiid is the best center in the league, it’s hard to argue someone else over them as one of the top two (sorry Jazz and Timberwolves fans). Embiid is a fantastic combination of skill and raw power with range to boot making him one of the most difficult centers to defend in the league. Similarly, Nikola’s unique style and incredible vision and basketball I.Q. make him one of the most difficult centers to defend in the league. Nikola will have his work cut out for him on both sides of the court tonight but luckily he’s performed pretty well against Embiid in the past.

Key thing to watch for: scoring, or lack thereof

Even with Simmons out the 76ers still bring an immense amount of size to the table. They’re length and athleticism coupled with having a defensive anchor like Embiid make them one of the most difficult teams to score on in the NBA. The Nuggets meanwhile have been struggling in the scoring department. It’s not likely that this one turns into a barn burner so it’s once again going to have to be the defensive end that gets it done for the Nuggets. The key will be keeping Embiid in check and not letting some random player off the bench put up 20 on them, a la Frank Jackson.

Opening thought: It’s Jamal’s night to shine

With Simmons out the Nuggets have a significant advantage at the point guard spot. Raul Neto is a fine backup point guard and a guy who has proven to be good enough to stick around in the NBA even though he doesn’t have overwhelming talent. That being said he’s not close to the same level of player that Jamal Murray is. For the Nuggets to win tonight a big shooting performance from Jamal will help tremendously. You know Embiid and Horford are going to be patrolling the paint so getting shots inside might be tough. At the perimeter though I expect Jamal to be able to either beat Neto off the dribble or lose him on a screen and if he does Jamal needs to bury his opportunities when they come.