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Preview: Denver Nuggets face upgraded Philadelphia 76ers

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A far more formidable version of the Sixers in comparison to last time these teams met

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

The Denver Nuggets wrap up their four game road trip tonight with a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Denver is 1-2 on the trip so far and looking to get back on track after back to back ugly losses to the Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets. More than one player as well as Coach Michael Malone questioned the team’s effort on Wednesday’s game in Brooklyn. Now, the Nuggets will need to figure out how to win against the most difficult opponent on the trip.

The Sixers were one of the more active teams in the NBA leading up to the deadline. They acquired a borderline all-star in Tobias Harris, made to small deals to get Malachi Richardson (since been cut) and James Ennis and then finished off their trade bonanza by sending former #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Jonathon Simmons and some additional draft compensation. Add to that the fact that neither Jimmy Butler or Joel Embiid played when the Sixers came to Denver back in January and this is almost an entirely different team than the one the Nuggets saw.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (37-17) at Philadelphia 76ers (34-20)

When: 5:00PM MST

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia PA

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 Malik Beasley J.J. Redick Even
SF Will Barton Jimmy Butler Sixers
PF Mason Plumlee Tobias Harris Sixers
C Nikola Jokic Joel Embiid Even
Bench Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles, Jarred Vanderbilt T.J. McConnell, Furkan Korkmaz, Jonathan Simmons, James Ennis, Boban Marjanovic Even

Injured players: Paul Millsap - questionable (ankle), Gary Harris - out (groin), Michael Porter Jr - out (back), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Joel Embiid - questionable (illness), Haywood Highsmith - questionable (illness), Zhaire Smith - out (foot)

Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Tobias Harris

If Millsap can’t go but Embiid can then the Nuggets are going to end up in the unenviable position of Nikola Jokic defending Tobias Harris. Mason Plumlee will likely guard Embiid so that leaves Joker chasing Harris around the court, which is not good for Denver. On the other end I imagine Embiid takes Jokic as his defensive assignment so it’s not like the Nuggets can make up for the lack of D with dominating O from Joker. Nikola is going to be tested tonight no matter who he is defending.

Key thing to watch for: energy

The team got called out on Wednesday and rightfully so. Two games in a row they’ve looked flat, pretty much from the opening tip. Denver needs to respond tonight and in a big way. This Philly team is as formidable opponent as you will find in the East and it’s going to go a long way to ease the minds of Nuggets Nation if Denver can get this win tonight. They don’t want to come home after a 1-3 roadtrip and on the second longest losing streak of the season.

Opening thought: Vanderbilt can make a difference

Harris and Ben Simmons both present the Nuggets issues as quick but big wings who can score at will. Denver has only one player on their roster who is truly equipped physically and mentally to defend players like that and that’s Millsap who is questionable for tonight’s game. Even then Paul is a little slow footed to be out on the perimeter guarding guys of Harris and Simmons’ caliber. Jarred Vanderbilt has all the physical tools but we’ve already seen that he is still very raw, which is to be expected given he’s played a grand total of two games at the NBA level. Still, tonight he’s one of their best options to try to slow down the high scoring attack of the Sixers and I’d like to see him get some meaningful minutes.