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Conversing with the enemy: A Sixers-Nuggets preview with Brendan Vogt

Getting a little insight about Thursday’s opponent.

Denver Nuggets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Moving forward, Liberty Ballers will conduct a question-and-answer session with someone possessing in-depth knowledge of the Philadelphia 76ers’ imminent opponent. Up next is Brendan Vogt, who covers the Denver Nuggets for DNVR.

What’s one key matchup you’re keeping tabs on for this game?

I’ll assume Joel Embiid is OUT for this game. Aaron Gordon guards the best player these days unless size prevents it, and he’ll almost certainly take Tobias Harris Thursday night. What can Philly do to either make him uncomfortable or force him to a different assignment? The Nuggets conceded switches far too easily in their latest loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs also pushed in transition to take advantage of the scramble. Can Philly free up their presumed go-to scorer?

What’s your assessment on Denver’s season thus far and its outlook moving forward?

Denver’s reached a stage of team building in which the analysis backs out from the weeds. The bench is terrible thus far, and there are some roster construction issues, but those conversations are almost trivial now. Nikola Jokić looks an improved player following his MVP season, and the Aaron Gordon trade is paying off.

Both players are essential ingredients in a suddenly tenacious defense. Those are far more significant developments that suggest the season is off to a great start. There’s an ugly elephant in the room, though. Michael Porter Jr. is in free fall, and now, apparently, back pain is keeping him out of the lineup. It’s hard to get carried away until either he returns to form or Jamal Murray returns to action. The Nuggets are one of those players away from actual contender status.

Biggest pleasant surprise of the season?

1. Bones Hyland

2. Bones Hyland

3. Bones Hyland

The late first-rounder barely resembles an NBA rookie with the ball in his hands. Sure, Bones is skilled and exciting, but he’s also ahead of the court vision and composure curve. He’s earning the hype.

Biggest disappointment of the season?

Michael Porter Jr. is moving in the wrong direction after a terrific 2020-21 regular season in which he showcased All-NBA scoring potential. In 2021-22, he can’t buy a bucket, and his injury history is rearing its head. I believe Porter can and will turn it around, should his body allow it. But this is a nightmare start to the season.

What’s one thing Sixers fans should watch for in this game?

It’s pretty hard to win the Jokić minutes these days, but if the second unit can play well enough when he sits, there lies the path to victory over Denver. The Nuggets aren’t healthy enough to run their preferred rotation, and all bench lineups are on the table for Malone right now.