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Why the Nuggets have no answer for Joel Embiid

Harrison Wind Avatar
January 17, 2024

Three takeaways from the Nuggets’ 126-121 loss to the 76ers.

1. The Nuggets have no answer for Joel Embiid

In the last Nuggets-76ers matchup that Joel Embiid played in before Tuesday night, he dropped 47 points in a 126-119 win. So in this meeting, Denver debuted what looked like a brand-new defensive scheme.

Aaron Gordon was the primary matchup for most of the night on Embiid and the Nuggets frequently sent double teams his way.

It didn’t work. Embiid scored 41 points this time and punished Denver with a jumpshot that never cooled off. The Nuggets wanted Embiid to beat them with his jumper and he did. Of Embiid’s 41 points, just six came in the paint.

But the byproduct of doubling Embiid was that the rest of the Nuggets’ defense was sent into scramble mode. And it didn’t go well. Denver wasn’t nearly quick or precise enough with its rotations.

The Nuggets looked completely lost on defense trying to keep track of Tyrese Maxey, who’s a deadly high-volume and deep 3-point shooter.

You can’t leave him like this.

This was another open Maxey 3 that came becasue the Nuggets doubled Embiid. Michael Porter Jr. is late on his rotation.

The Nuggets just looked unsure of themselves for most of the night on the defensive end of the floor.

This was another complete breakdown.

2. Jamal Murray wasn’t good enough

Murray’s stats looked OK in this one. He finished with 17 points, 10 assists, and just two turnovers. But his two giveaways were costly.

Both came in the fourth quarter.

Then, a fourth-quarter 24-second violation later in the period where Murray delivered Aaron Gordon another questionable pass.

The Nuggets lost this game, in my opinion, due to their fourth-quarter execution. This game was tied at 111 when Jokic, Gordon, and Porter checked back into the game to join Murray with 7:28 remaining.

Denver’s starters were outscored and out-executed from that point on. In total, the Nuggets were outscored 27-17 in the fourth.

Denver had four turnovers to only six made baskets over the final 12 minutes of this game.

3. This game lived up to the hype

Nuggets-76ers felt like a playoff game and it was Denver’s first game this season that had that kind of aura around it. Every possession felt big. Every basket felt important. Jokic and Embiid both had big nights.

It lived up to the hype. Nuggets-76ers would be a hell of an NBA Finals. It’s a great matchup.

And I’ve got to put some respect on Embiid’s name for his performance. This was a back-to-back for him and he balled out. He dominated the Nuggets. Again.

Postgame, he had this message for Jokic too.

“I just told him he’s the best player in the league,” Embiid said. “…He won a championship, that’s the best team in the league, and he’s the Finals MVP. I just told him keep going, see you in two weeks.”

In a little under two weeks (11 days) of course is the Nuggets-76ers rematch in Denver, and it sounds like Embiid is going to play. He set the stage for that with those comments. It would be the first time he plays in Denver since 2019.

I can’t wait.

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