Preview: Denver Nuggets start road trip against Philadelphia 76ers

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Denver Nuggets
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (40-28) just ended one of their roughest stretches of the season after playing four games in five days last week and six games in nine days overall. Now, they head East to take on the Philadelphia 76ers (41-25) in a matchup of two of the NBA’s brightest stars in Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid which hasn’t been seen on the floor since December 10th, 2019.

After winning 9 of 10 games, the Nuggets have lost their last two games to the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors while looking absolutely gassed in both games. Denver sits in the sixth spot in the Western Conference, and they’re not looking to slide down the rankings with the Minnesota Timberwolves right behind them just 1.5 games back. Tonight starts a key three-game road trip for the Nuggets against Eastern Conference foes.

For Philly, they’re coming off of an overtime win against the Orlando Magic where they escaped with a two-point victory on the road on Sunday afternoon. The 76ers are still in contention for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, as they’re just 2.5 games back from the Miami Heat, and they’re trying to continue to build the chemistry between Embiid and the recently acquired James Harden ahead of their playoff run.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (40-28, 20-15 away) @ Philadelphia 76ers (41-25, 19-14 home)

When: 5:30 p.m. MST

Where: Wells Fargo Center

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 in Philadelphia. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Liberty Ballers

Expected Starting Lineups:

PHI: PG Tyrese Maxey, SG James Harden, SF Matisse Thybulle, PF Tobias Harris, C Joel Embiid

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Danny Green (finger), Aaron Gordon (foot), Zeke Nnaji (ankle)

Three Things to Watch

Embiid vs Jokic

The two frontrunners for the NBA MVP award are matching up with less than a month remaining in the regular season in a nationally televised game. Plus, as they play the same position, we’ll see them guarding each other for much of the game. It’s well-known how the two are officiated differently in terms of free throws, so, if Embiid is getting that favorable whistle early on, he could get Jokic into foul trouble and put him into a bind for the rest of the game. The winner of this matchup will go a long way towards winning his team the game.

Slowing Down James Harden

The Nuggets have struggled to slow down guards all season long, and that script has to be flipped tonight. Over his last three games, Harden is a combined 13-of-51 from the field, including 7-of-23 from 3-point range. Denver has to continue to force that inefficiency out of him, without allowing him to parade to the free-throw line. Harden seems like a player that’s destined for a huge game any night now, and that can’t be tonight for the Nuggets.

Bench Minutes

The 76ers played four of their five starters for more than 40 minutes yesterday, with the lone outlier being Matisse Thybulle, who had five fouls that relegated him to the bench for much of the game. Unless they’re planning on riding their starters again, which Doc Rivers seemed to be clearly implying that they wouldn’t, this is a big bench game for Denver. The 76ers have issues with depth off of the bench, and Denver can score against them. If they can win the bench minutes, that will alleviate some of the pressure the starters will be dealing with.

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