Raul Neto

Sixers at Nuggets: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Sixers at Nuggets: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Ben Simmons will miss his fourth regular-season game in the last three seasons Friday night when the Sixers play the Nuggets in Denver.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game between two 5-2 teams:

When: 9 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 8:30 p.m.
Where: Pepsi Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Replacing Simmons

Simmons is out tonight with a Grade 1 AC joint sprain and will be re-evaluated before the Sixers’ game Sunday vs. the Charlotte Hornets. He sustained the injury in the first quarter Wednesday against the Jazz. 

When Simmons left vs. Utah, Furkan Korkmaz started the second half. Raul Neto also stepped into a prominent role and played 30 minutes. He’d only played more in a game once over the past three seasons, but Neto did well overall. He had 11 points on 5 for 11 shooting, four assists, three steals and four turnovers, and he also played solid defense against Donovan Mitchell. 

If Brett Brown intends to continue giving Neto major minutes without Simmons, he might also consider giving Trey Burke his first action of the regular season to spell the Brazilian point guard. 

Embiid vs. Jokic 

Nikola Jokic beat Joel Embiid out for the All-NBA First Team center spot last season. 

The Nuggets’ big man hasn’t started this year as well, though. His “general demeanor” has been concerning, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post, and Jokic acknowledged to reporters Thursday he needs to improve his one-on-one defense. Jokic’s offensive production is down, too, as he’s averaging 14.9 points on 46 percent shooting, 9.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists.

Embiid had 27 points and 16 rebounds in his return from a two-game suspension for a fight with Karl-Anthony Towns, but he wasn’t at his peak, shooting 5 of 16 from the floor and appearing to fatigue at times — he told reporters postgame that the high elevation in Utah was a factor. 

Perhaps Embiid and Jokic will bring the best out of each other Friday. 

The end of the road 

Friday’s game marks the end of the Sixers’ four-game West Coast trip, and the schedule looks much easier once this trip concludes.

The Sixers’ next six games are against the Hornets, Cavs, Magic, Thunder, Cavs (again) and Knicks. None of those five teams are currently above .500, and their combined record is 12-27. 

While the Sixers would prefer to head home on a winning note, it’s not as if a three-game losing streak would eliminate their hopes of earning the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Simmons’ health and larger questions about topics like the structure of the offense and pick-and-roll defense are of greater importance than the result in Denver. 



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Ben Simmons out vs. Nuggets while dealing with shoulder injury

Ben Simmons out vs. Nuggets while dealing with shoulder injury

Ben Simmons will miss Friday night's game in Denver with a Grade 1 AC joint sprain in his right shoulder. He'll be re-evaluated before Sunday night's game vs. Charlotte, a team source tells NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Simmons appeared to suffer the injury with 11:04 in the first quarter Wednesday. He was bumped by Utah’s Donovan Mitchell while jumping for a loose ball and landed awkwardly on his back. The All-Star point guard re-entered the game but appeared to be favoring the shoulder and was quickly subbed out. He headed back to the locker room and did not return.

The Sixers have a huge void to fill in Simmons’ absence — especially on the defensive end. Brett Brown will have options. Does he use Josh Richardson as his starting one and start Furkan Korkmaz or Matisse Thybulle? Does he turn to Raul Neto, who’s given the Sixers solid minutes over the last three games? Do we see Trey Burke get his first action of the season?

It will be sort of an interesting case study with Simmons out. The offense may be forced to slow down simply out of necessity. Simmons is one of the fastest players in the league and elite in the open court. With guys like Richardson, Neto or even Burke running the show, you’re likely to see much more half-court offense. Maybe even a little more pick-and-roll.

The fact that Simmons has a chance to play Sunday seems like good news for the Sixers.

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Why Josh Richardson should be the Sixers' backup point guard

Why Josh Richardson should be the Sixers' backup point guard

The Sixers brought in veterans Trey Burke and Raul Neto to compete for the backup point guard role. Brett Brown has made sure to note that second-year guard Shake Milton is also in the mix.

How’s the saying go? Plans are worthless, but planning is everything?

Yeah, that applies here.

Elton Brand did well to fortify the backup point guard position this summer, but Josh Richardson should ultimately back up Ben Simmons this season.

They certainly haven't performed poorly, but Burke, Neto and Milton haven't stood out through three preseason games. Brown has been hesitant to go there, saying that he wants the competition for the role to play out, but on Sunday night in Orlando, he unfurled a rotation featuring Richardson as the primary ball handler with the second unit.

And Richardson produced, recording five assists to just one turnover and was a team-high plus-23 in 26 minutes. It’s a role he’s familiar with, having done it a decent amount last season in Miami and his senior season at Tennessee.

“My main focus this season is trying to keep my mindset aggressive on both ends of the floor and do whatever I need to give us the best chance to win,” Richardson said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters, “and yes, I'm fine with leading that second unit and keeping guys organized, keeping that aggression high.”

During the 2018-19 season, he posted his highest usage rate (20.9), PER (14.0), assist percentage (17.9) and his lowest turnover percentage (9.1). He’s an ascending player who’s become more comfortable initiating offense at the NBA level.

Richardson was acquired in the sign-and-trade with the Heat for Jimmy Butler and he’ll also take JJ Redick’s spot in the starting lineup. He’s not trying to be either player — "I'm not coming in here trying to be Jimmy Redick,” Richardson joked after the Blue x White Scrimmage — but he will fill a lot of their duties.

Richardson was used in dribble handoffs often in Miami and finished 10th in the NBA in points per possession on DHOs. That had been a staple of the Sixers’ offense with Joel Embiid and Redick. The two-man game with that duo was lethal. While Richardson won’t offer the same level of shooting, he’s not a slouch in that department — he’s shot 38.9 percent from three in three preseason games. He also adds a more dynamic element with his athleticism and passing ability.

“It’s different, but Josh brings something different,” Embiid said after the first day of training camp. “Obviously JJ with the crazy shots and off-balance threes and all that stuff, but we’ve got Josh, who’s more athletic than JJ, especially when it comes to back cutting, throwing lobs and him just turning the corner and attacking the defender. I think in that sense, he can do that better than JJ.”

And while he may not be trying to replicate what Butler did during his short time in Philadelphia, Richardson can fill a similar role. When Simmons struggled, Butler took over as the team’s primary ball handler. Butler excelled — and obviously enjoyed — being the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. Again, it's another aspect of the game offensively Richardson shined in with the Heat.

Brown’s rotation has remained similar in his time where he generally never goes to an entire second unit. For the most part, Brown likes to have two starters on the floor at all times. Judging by this preseason, you shouldn’t expect that to change. Given that, it appears Richardson’s minutes will always coincide with Embiid’s.

All of this and we haven't even mentioned Richardson's defensive role and prowess. He'll be tasked with guarding opposing ones with the starting unit this season. Quicker guards like Kemba Walker and Spencer Dinwiddie gave the Sixers fits last season. It’ll be Richardson’s job to remedy that — one he has an excellent chance of fulfilling thanks to his length and athleticism. At 6-foot-5, it's also quite an advantage for Richardson to be the shortest player on the floor for the Sixers.

Add it all up and Richardson seems like an indispensable part of the Sixers’ immensely talented starting five.

“I think Josh is almost kind of the secret — as important as any mortar,” Brown said at his annual luncheon before camp began. “He just holds us together. He really has a chance to hold us together.”

It wasn’t necessarily the plan for Josh Richardson to be the Sixers’ backup point guard, but here we are.

And it’s just another example of the critical role(s) he’ll play this season.

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