This is one a lot of fans have been waiting for.
The Philadelphia 76ers will end their road trip on Monday night with a stop in Colorado to take on the Denver Nuggets and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets are coasting on a three-game win streak, while the Sixers are trying to avoid dropping their third straight after a rough week without James Harden, out with Achillies soreness for the Sixers’ last three games.
Let’s get it out of the way. Joel Embiid vs. Jokic. Of course, a matchup of noteworthy magnitude, especially as the regular season winds down and MVP Award conversations rage on. For better or worse, there will be people that base their selection for MVP between the two stars on this lone late-season matchup, and both are no doubt aware and looking to prove themselves.
The Nuggets haven’t gotten to 50-24 by accident. Obviously, the undeniable leader of the team is Jokic. Jokic currently averages 24.9 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game. Putting him aside, however, reveals a well-rounded team with six players averaging double-digits. Jamal Murray, Michael Porter, Jr. and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope aren’t afraid to let it fly from long range and could take advantage of the Sixers’ questionable perimeter defense (see Golden State Warriors game from last week).
To the detriment of Philadelphia, the injury report has the potential to decide this one before the tip. The Sixers currently have Embiid, Harden and Danuel House Jr. all listed as questionable for Monday’s contest. Harden has been out for about a week with Achilles soreness and the Sixers haven’t looked great without their star playmaker. A lot has been left on the shoulders of Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, and it simply hasn’t been enough to snag victories for Philadelphia over the past week. Obviously, if Embiid is out, it not only nullifies the whole “MVP candidate battle” hoopla we just covered, but seriously hamstrings the Sixers’ chances.
Let’s assume Embiid plays, but Harden and House, Jr., remain out as has been the case the last few games. The other Sixers’ starters as well as the bench are going to have to pull some of the weight if Philadelphia is going to have any chance of going back home with a win in this one. It cannot be all on Embiid — who is not 100% himself — and Maxey. It simply isn’t enough to compete with other NBA teams, especially not the 50-24 Nuggets.
The Nuggets are much healthier at the moment, with just Porter, Jr., listed as questionable with a left heel injury/injury management.
It’s been an up-and-down month for Denver, who has gone 6-5 in March. The Sixers are having a stronger month overall at 10-4, but have also played a few more games in the same timeframe and have fatigue beginning to set in. Both teams have already clinched a spot in the playoffs but have seeding to fight to hold onto.
The Nuggets are currently ranked second in offensive rating (117.7) and the Sixers ranked fourth (117.0). On the defensive end, the Sixers rank seventh (112.2) compared to the Nuggets at 15th (113.6).
If both teams can show up relatively healthy, this should be one heck of a matchup.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Denver Nuggets
When: 9:30 p.m. EST
Where: Ball Arena, Denver, CO
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic