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Preview: Denver Nuggets look for win over Philadelphia 76ers

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (28-18) have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams since the All-Star Break, and they have a matchup with the only team hotter than them tonight with the Philadelphia 76ers (32-14) who have won eight of their 10 games since the break. This has quietly developed into one of the best cross-conference rivalries over the last couple of years with the development of the team’s young superstars in Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. Unfortunately, Embiid (knee) will be sidelined for this matchup.

Prior to the trade deadline last week, the Nuggets got absolutely wholloped by the Toronto Raptors who shot 24-of-48 from 3-point range in a blowout that wasn’t nearly as close as the 111-135 final score would have you believe. They went to work to address their weaknesses from that game by adding Aaron Gordon, Javale McGee and Gary Clark at the deadline. Against the Atlanta Hawks, the starting lineup addition of Gordon looked like a pretty talented one, and they’ll be hoping to continue that against Philly.

For Philly, after losing MVP-candidate Embiid during a win over the Washington Wizards, the doubters quickly circled, but they have staved them off in a major way as they’ve gone 6-2 in the eight games since his absence began. They’re 3-1 on this road trip so far, and they have two games left including tonight before they head back to Pennsylvania. They’ll be looking to get a winning streak going along with avoiding a season-sweep at the hands of the Nuggets who bested them 115-103 back in January.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (28-18, 13-9 home) vs Philadelphia 76ers (32-14, 13-10 away)

When: 7:00 p.m. MST

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up on Zoom. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Liberty Ballers

Expected Starting Lineups:

PHI: PG Ben Simmons, SG Seth Curry, SF Danny Green, PF Tobias Harris, C Mike Scott

DEN: PG Jamal Murray, SF Will Barton, SF Michael Porter Jr., PF Aaron Gordon, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Monte Morris, Joel Embiid

Three Things to Watch

This isn’t the matchup from January

Back in January, the Nuggets’ leading scorer was Gary Harris, and the 76ers’ leading scorer was Tyrese Maxey who played 43 minutes in the game. Now, Harris is in Orlando and Maxey hasn’t played more than 21 minutes in a single game since January 16th. That was also the game where Philly started Maxey, Dwight Howard, Dakota Mathias, Isaiah Joe and Green. Denver can’t expect to just overpower them with star power the same way they did last time. Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon will likely be tasked with guarding Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, and their performance on that end will be huge.

Slow Down the Pace

The pace of play in this game is going to be huge for Denver. Philadelphia ranks eighth in pace compared to 29th for Denver, and, with Embiid out, they’re 12th. Against the Raptors, Denver got run out of the gym with hot shooting and a high pace of play. If Denver tries to play that type of game against the 76ers, they could get in trouble with some of the athletes the 76ers have.

Was Sunday a Fluke?

Against the Hawks, Denver could do no wrong on the offensive end. The starters shot 66 percent inside the 3-point line and the team shot over 40 percent from downtown. This matchup is a little bit different. The 76ers have the NBA’s best defensive rating over their last eight games. If Denver’s group comes out clicking again with Gordon in the lineup, they’re going to be putting the rest of the NBA on notice. If they get suffocated down, they’re likely somewhere in between elite and terrible.