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DENVER – The Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers are currently trending in different directions. In the last seven games the Nuggets are 5-2 while the 76ers are 1-6 and have fallen to 7-24 on the season. The Nuggets have a chance to secure their first winning month of the year with a win over Philadelphia and keep themselves in the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoff race.
Regular season game No. 33 | Denver Nuggets (14-18) vs Philadelphia 76ers (7-24)
Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado | 7:00 PM MST | TV: Altitude
Embiid vs Jokic
This is the marquee matchup of the night that has every basketball nerd salivating. The passing and high-IQ type play of Nikola Jokic taking on the behemoth that is Joel Embiid, who just happens to be the best three-point shooter in Philadelphia, is going endless amounts of fun.
Jokic is coming off of his second near triple-double in the last five games with a 16-point, 11-assist, and eight-rebound performance against the Timberwolves. Since returning to the starting lineup seven games ago Jokic has been the best passing center in basketball with a league leading 5.9 assists per game.
Not only is he passing at an extremely productive level but Jokic has an insane 70.7 true shooting percentage and is scoring 15.3 points per game. Jokic has become the engine that makes the Nuggets offense go but tonight he will have the tough task of playing across from the Rookie of the Year favorite, Embiid.
“I think anytime you play against a talented guy like Embiid you can’t just leave it on one person,” Michael Malone explained at shootaround. “If you go back to the Minnesota game, we started small so we had Wilson on Karl-Anthony Towns and give him a lot of help and at halftime, Towns has four points and we made Ricky Rubio a shooter, which is what the game plan was. So tonight whether Nikola is on Okafor or is on Embiid, we have to give him help, we have to give Wilson help.”
It has been well documented how versatile and impactful Embiid has been in his rookie campaign so far. Malone broke it down perfectly.
“What Embiid brings to the table and the problems and challenges he brings is that he can pick-and-pop and shoot 40 perfect from the three-point line. He can catch from on the perimeter and put the ball on the floor and make basketball plays. He can catch the in the post, face-up or with the back-to-the-basket, and just put you in the hole and dunk over you.”
Embiid is still on a 28-minute restriction after the injury history that dominated his first couple years in the Association but the battle of Jokic and Embiid should still be one of the deciding factors on who ends 2016 with a victory.
Will Malone extend his rotation to ten or 11 players?
Malone has stuck with a nine-man rotation for the most part since shaking up the starting lineup seven games prior. He even went as far as to say he does not plan on switching up the rotation when speaking at practice prior to Denver’s win over Minnesota
“Since we made the lineup change, we’re 4-2. So if we can go 4-2 every six games, I’d be pretty happy with that,” Malone said. “So right now, I think we’re going to stay with what we have going.”
Jusuf Nurkic was very vocal about the frustrations with his current role at practice Thursday but ended up seeing just under nine minutes against the Timberwolves Wednesday night. Malone alluded that Nurkic may be in line to play against the 76ers and potentially the Sacramento Kings who come to Denver next week.
“His attitude has been terrific, he has been working his butt off, in yesterday’s we scrimmaged and he looked really good,” Malone said. “With their bigs and their physicality, I think we could benefit from having him. We will need him against Philadelphia and we will need him probably against Sacramento when they come in.”
In addition to re-inserting Nurkic into the rotation, Malone also spoke about the solid defensive work of Arthur when defending Embiid earlier this year.
“We did a decent job on him in Philly when we beat them,” Malone said. “We gave him different looks. Nurkic was effective on him. Darrell Arthur played very well. We were able to guard him one on one which took away the three-point line which was helpful but he rested last night to have a great game tonight, so we have to be ready for that challenge.”
While Malone wants a shorter rotation it would not surprise me to see him go down into the depths of his bench to throw as many different players at Embiid to make him uncomfortable. Malone used Nurkic as a perfect change of pace defender against Towns when not using the quicker and smaller Chandler plus a help defender.
Tonight could be another opportunity to use the same defensive scheme to slow down Embiid.