In the middle of a brutal slate of games, at the start of a four-game West Coast swing, and missing three-fifths of their starting lineup, the end result makes sense.
The Sixers fought but just couldn’t compete with Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in a 126-110 loss at Pepsi Center Saturday night.
The Sixers (32-18) were without Joel Embiid (rest), Jimmy Butler (sprained wrist) and Wilson Chandler (left hamstring strain).
Here are observations from the loss.
• Without Embiid and Butler, Ben Simmons and JJ Redick needed to be at their best.
Redick rose to the occasion, hitting 9 of 19 and 4 of 10 from three for 22 points.
Simmons struggled as he looked to be more aggressive as a scorer. He also spent more time at the four while T.J. McConnell and Landry Shamet ran the point. Simmons missed several point-blank layups and other shots he normally hits. He went just 6 of 17 from the floor for 19 points.
He also only recorded four assists, his lowest total since the Sixers’ 34-point loss to the Trail Blazers back on Dec. 30.
• How the Sixers felt Saturday night against Jokic is likely the way most teams feel about having to go up against Embiid. He can play on the perimeter, but can also be a bully on the low block. The Sixers tried to throw a few different looks at the Nuggets’ big man, but nobody was effective in slowing him down.
He had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the first half and recorded a triple-double with 32 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Sixers really missed the presence of Embiid as they were outrebounded, 51-40, and outscored in the paint, 74-40. You have to imagine the All-Star center will have Feb. 8, when Jokic and Denver come to the Wells Fargo Center, circled on his calendar.
• Corey Brewer has been a revelation for the Sixers. The recent recipient of a second 10-day contract, Brewer’s contributions haven’t really shown up on the stat sheet … until Saturday night.
Brewer was aggressive early driving to the basket and finishing with authority.
Brewer puttin' the moves on em.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 27, 2019
He takes it all the way to the cup for a pair, but the Sixers trail, 23-16. pic.twitter.com/79JjGqGM6J
He finished with 20 points, his highest point total since March 16 of last season, when he recorded 22 for the Thunder against the Lakers.
Aside from his defensive tenacity and hustle, Brewer is showing how good of an athlete he is and also just how flat out fast he is. He’s given the Sixers a huge jolt. Just sign this dude for the rest of the season.
• The Sixers’ bench has struggled with consistency all season, but the players that were out there Saturday put out a hell of an effort.
Two-way player Shake Milton saw plenty of action. He was strong defensively and also nailed 3 of 5 from three on his way to a rookie career-high 11 points.
SHAK333.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 27, 2019
The rook with his third triple of the game. pic.twitter.com/JgylKyh7P6
He also made a nice drive to the hoop, but was a little short on the shot. Later in the fourth, he attacked an aggressive closeout by dipping in and hitting a pull-up jumper. Milton, a 2018 second-round pick, has a few intriguing tools.
Amir Johnson lost his role as Joel Embiid’s backup this season. To the veteran’s credit, he was ready to play when called upon. What Johnson lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with being in the right spot on defense and making the right play on offense. He had an impressive block on a Torrey Craig dunk attempt late in the first half.
• Butler didn’t play for the third straight game, but is expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday night vs. the Lakers. He saw a specialist in L.A. for his sprained right wrist.
Embiid was given a rest day, something the All-Star center doesn’t love, but is likely necessary to keep the big man fresh. Embiid running at full speed in April is more important than winning a game in Denver in January.
Chandler, who’s been battling health issues all season long, sat out with left hamstring tightness. The 12-year veteran missed the first nine games of this season with a left hamstring strain.