76ers

Sixers vs. Nuggets: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

Sixers vs. Nuggets: 3 storylines to watch and how to live stream the game

After an exciting NBA trade deadline (in which the Sixers acquired five new players!) an Elton Brand press conference, and a Moses Malone statue unveiling at Legends Walk (and a jersey retiring to happen this evening), can you believe there is still a game to play?

And it is a big one. The Sixers (34-20) are taking on a team that currently stands at second place in the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets (37-17), at Wells Fargo Center. There are so many storylines to follow, it’s hard to keep it to just three. First, here are the essentials:

• When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
• Where: Wells Fargo Center 
• Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
• Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines:

New core

It’ll be the first glimpse of Tobias Harris in the Sixers' starting lineup, alongside Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick. Keep in mind that this group will have had zero practice time together, but getting to see the future of the new core, and how these guys feed off each other is definitely going to be the highlight of this one.

New bench

The Sixers added Mike Scott, James Ennis, Jonathon Simmons and Boban Marjanović to their bench. One of the biggest criticisms of this team had been their lack of bench depth, especially at the wing. With the new construction of this roster, we’ll get our first look into whether this bench is better equipped come playoff time. (Ennis is still in the process of being cleared for tonight’s game, while Simmons will not play, according to a team source).

And then there’s Denver … and Nikola Jokic!

The fans are still starved for that Jokic vs. Joel Embiid matchup! The last time these two teams played, the Sixers rested Embiid, and fell 126-110 in Denver. Jokic came out aggressive, posting 17 points and seven rebounds in the first. You better believe Embiid has this one circled. Prior to resting against Denver a few weeks ago, Embiid said, “You best believe that if I play, I'm going to go crazy."

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Zhaire Smith practices with Sixers 6 months after surgery for Jones fracture

Zhaire Smith practices with Sixers 6 months after surgery for Jones fracture

There were a couple odd sights at Sixers’ practice Wednesday.

First, there was Jimmy Butler sporting Zhaire Smith’s practice jersey. Then there was Smith himself, present and accounted for, at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden.

“Oh, s---. I forgot I had this mother f----- on,” Butler said when asked why he was wearing Smith’s jersey. “I just wanted to be the better Zhaire today. I felt like I gave him the business today in practice.”

Smith surely would’ve given anything to have an NBA All-Star give him "the business" a few months ago.

It’s been a weird journey in his first pro season. Though this organization’s definition of weird — especially with injuries to first-round picks — differs greatly from other teams, Smith went through a lot.

After being drafted 16th overall by the Suns out of Texas Tech, Smith was part of a swap that sent Philly native and Villanova product Mikal Bridges — whose mom works for the Sixers — to Phoenix and brought Smith to Philadelphia. After a fairly uneventful but productive summer league stint, Smith went to work preparing for Sixers training camp.

Unfortunately, Smith then suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot on Aug. 6 during a development camp in Las Vegas and had successful surgery on Aug. 10 in New York City.

Smith then underwent a successful thoracoscopy on Sept. 27 to address an issue from an allergic reaction to a food product. Because of all this, Smith’s physical condition deteriorated. He lost weight and needed to regain his strength and conditioning.

But give Smith credit. He’s been working out with the Sixers’ G-League affiliate in Delaware, trying to get back on the court. Make no mistake, Wednesday’s practice was a big step.

“He’s handling it well,” Butler said. “Every time I see him he’s in here working on his game as much as he can, in the weight room trying to get stronger or doing the rehab he’s supposed to be doing.”

Lost in all of the craziness is that Smith seems like a legitimate prospect that could’ve helped the Sixers this season. His athleticism and ability to play tough defense on the ball would’ve been welcomed additions to the Sixers’ bench — especially prior to the trade deadline.

Alas, Smith didn’t get the opportunity to shine, and with just 24 games left in the regular season, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to play in an NBA game this season.

But still, he’s just 19 years old and could become a player for the Sixers yet. 

“It was great to see him,” Brett Brown said. “You’re reminded how of how athletic he is. He had a bounce today. It was just good to have him included with his teammates.”

Enough bounce to play a game this season?

“I don’t know," Brown said. "It wasn’t my expectation and still really isn’t, but I think to see him move around with his teammates, from a human standpoint, was pretty cool.”

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Joel Embiid's injury a blow, but lofty goals remain when he returns

Joel Embiid's injury a blow, but lofty goals remain when he returns

The news of a Joel Embiid injury is not what Sixers fans wanted coming out of the All-Star break.

While the All-Star center’s left knee soreness may seem alarming, his head coach downplayed it at the team’s practice facility Wednesday, referring to it as tendinitis (see story).

Brett Brown mentioned that Embiid had been dealing with a knee issue “for a few weeks” and that his playing in the All-Star game did not affect the injury.

“It’s a natural dot connector and it shouldn’t be to think that had anything to do with it,” Brown said at the team’s practice facility. “The bottom line is nobody needs to read into anything here. This is an NBA athlete that has some soreness in a knee, he’s had an MRI and we all should move on. 

“We’ll miss him obviously, playing wise, but it’s not anything that isn’t completely pointed toward keeping him ready and especially ready when it matters most at the end of the year.”

But with Embiid being out for at least a week, Brown and company have to move on without him.

What that initially means is more minutes for fan favorite Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic certainly brings something to the table with his massive frame, efficient play around the basket and his abilities to screen and roll. Defense will be the issue when he’s asked to cover more fleet-footed fives.

That’s where rookie Jonah Bolden could come in. Bolden lost the backup center role through no fault of his own. He’d been playing well, providing rim protection with quick feet on defense and also hitting the occasional three. 

“You’d think Jonah’s got a chance to reclaim some of his court time that he had prior to the trade,” Brown said. “That is in my mindset, I had him on my second team today. It’ll be good to see him again.”

Other than missing a MVP-caliber player, the biggest disappointment is that the Sixers won’t get to further develop the chemistry of their new starting five. With the playoffs looming, getting that unit to play at its peak is more important than wins and losses.

There are loftier goals that lie ahead of the next last 24 regular season games.

“I’ve been on different teams where the goal is to get into the playoffs,” Tobias Harris said. “Here the goal is to win in the playoffs and to win big. I think we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we just said, 'Let’s get out of the first round.' We’re trying to go for a championship here.”

It’ll be up to Harris and the other starters to carry more of that scoring load in Embiid’s absence. The player that may bear more of that burden is Jimmy Butler.

Butler can score on all three levels and create his own shot better than any player on the Sixers with Embiid out. Butler put up back-to-back 38-point performances back in early December. One of those games was with Embiid struggling mightily in Toronto and the other was with Embiid sidelined in Detroit.

While he won’t alter his approach with Embiid out, he knows what’s at stake in general.

“I’m going about it the same way,” Butler said. “It’s time to pick it up a little bit. This is the final stretch. I’m ready, man. My mind, my body. I’m relaxed, calm and collected, ready to win some games.”

Once Embiid's body is ready, the Sixers will look to take another step toward their championship goals.

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