Denver Nuggets

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

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

Updated: 7:30 p.m.

The 17-7 Sixers will try to maintain perfection at home Tuesday night and earn their 13th win of the season at Wells Fargo Center when they play the 14-7 Nuggets, who have lost four of their past five games.

Here are the essentials: 

When: 8 p.m. ET 
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: TNT
Live stats: Follow here 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Fourth-quarter offensive woes 

The fourth quarter of the Sixers’ Nov. 8 loss in Denver was their worst of the season. They were outscored 35-13, struggled to create everything they got on offense and saw Nikola Jokic nail a go-ahead jumper with 1.2 seconds left and Josh Richardson in his face at the end of a broken play. To make things more painful, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report deemed that, on the ensuing possession, the offensive foul call on Joel Embiid actually should have been a foul on Jokic.

Though that particular fourth period was especially bad, it hasn’t been a productive quarter for the Sixers’ offense overall this season. The team has a 102.9 fourth-quarter offensive rating, which is third-worst in the NBA, and allowed the Raptors to make the end of Sunday night’s game a turnover-filled farce, coughing it up seven times in the final 4:14. 

“Where do we begin? Some of the passing decisions, it's stuff you’ve just got to get better with,” Brett Brown said. “I’m not really too sure how to address some of it, some of it you just scratch your head and try to coach better and help them more. It is disappointing the way that ended because I thought for the most part, we played good basketball. It's just the way that it ended, you have a little bit of a sour taste in your mouth.”

Richardson’s return

Richardson will make his return to the lineup. Though the Sixers have gone 5-1 in the six games Richardson has been out since sustaining the injury on Nov. 27 against the Kings, they’ll welcome back his ability to defender smaller guards, a duty Ben Simmons has assumed more — and handled very well — recently. 

Before the game, Richardson had a big smile as he talked about being able to play again.

"I’ve been itching to go back out there for a while, but sometimes you’ve just gotta be smart," he said. "Just tried to take my time getting back and hopefully today goes well.”

The fifth-year guard won't be without limitations. It sounds like the Sixers plan to ease him back into action.

"We’ll probably be watching my minutes for the first couple games back but while I’m on the floor, I’m going to go all out," he said.

A blueprint vs. the Nuggets’ pick-and-roll defense 

The Nuggets hedged hard on the pick-and-roll often in their first matchup vs. the Sixers. A unit with Raul Neto at the point — Simmons was sidelined with a shoulder sprain — had success against that scheme in the second quarter. Kyle O’Quinn, who scored a season-high 11 points in the game, rolled to the rim, forced a help side defender to tag him in the paint and freed up the Sixers’ shooters. 

Furkan Korkmaz was frequently the shooter who profited, scoring 12 points on 4 of 5 shooting, and the Sixers’ bench outscored Denver’s, 37-12.

If the Nuggets’ pick-and-roll defense is aggressive again, the Sixers’ approach a little over a month ago in the second quarter is the way to beat it — draw help on the roll, move the ball crisply and make scrambling defenders pay by hitting open threes. 

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Ranking the 2019-20 NBA City Edition Uniforms

Ranking the 2019-20 NBA City Edition Uniforms

I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t really impressed with the City Edition designs for 2019-20. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly a few that nailed their themes and rightfully earned their rankings … and there are definitely a handful that will leave you scratching your head and wondering what the heck were they thinking?

Let’s get to the rankings, shall we?

30. Dallas Mavericks
Normally when a team drops new gear and the majority dislikes it, you’re still able to find people/fans who appreciate the angle and approach. I’ve been searching through replies and it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack for any positive comments.

29. Memphis Grizzlies
Apparently, the Grizzlies won’t even have a City Edition this season ... but nothing is still better than whatever Dallas did. Sorry, Mavs.

28. Milwaukee Bucks
They came. They attempted. They failed. I was today years old when I found out Milwaukee was referred to as “Cream City.” All because of bricks?

27. Boston Celtics
I’d say I’m sorry for Boston fans for having to look at these uniforms on the court a handful of times throughout the season, but it’s Boston so ... never mind. Pretty sure 99 percent of all NBA fans can agree on this one. These are terrible.

26. Detroit Pistons
The inspiration was supposed to be pulled from the muscle car heritage of the Motor City, but in reality it just kind of looks like Barcelona's jersey.

25. San Antonio Spurs
… these are ranked so low just because I still can’t see them to make a judgement call. (Get it? Camo joke.)

24. Chicago Bulls
The design of the uniform itself is OK but this pale blue is really throwing me off. I saw a comment that called it, “The Bulls gender reveal uniforms.” Do what you want with that information.

23. Charlotte Hornets
No time for groufits this season, although the purple makes a bold statement against it.

22. Houston Rockets
The Rockets drew inspiration from NASA but I wouldn’t say these are out of this world or anything.

21. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers basically used the same design from their 2017-18 season but adjusted the colors. It’s nothing new and exciting but the overall look is still solid.

20. Sacramento Kings
They’re not good, they’re not bad … they’re just meh. Their hype video, however, is pretty cool.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves
These definitely look like a missed opportunity. Sometimes a simple approach comes off as boring and that is certainly the case this time around. In the replies to the initial reveal post, I saw someone post a picture of white bread to describe the uniforms … accurate.

18. Golden State Warriors
These could’ve been a little more creative — the shorts are nice with the detailing of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I’m sure they’re more worried about what’s going on on the court rather than what they’re wearing.

17. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans seem to be recycling their City Editions from last season which have the colors of Mardi Gras. There is a ton of potential with a theme like this but again are taking the simple route. Have some fun next time, Pelicans!

16. New York Knicks
It looks like the Knicks are also recycling their look from last season which features alternating blue and orange stripes representing the New York skyline.

15. Washington Wizards
Lots of mixed reviews for the Wizards’ City Edition. Fans have either absolutely loved them or would rather go without a City Edition than have this one … there is no in between.

14. Los Angeles Lakers
Nothing really stands out from these jerseys, except for the fact they were designed by Shaq and they went back to that classic gold-like color rather than the bright yellow currently being used.

13. Brooklyn Nets
This design was great with the black uniforms and looks just as nice with the white. Thought it was going to finally be the season where the front says “Nets” rather than “Bed-Stuy” or their usual “Brooklyn” though. Maybe next year.

12. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have one clean jersey for their City Editions this season. They pulled classic elements from their original uniforms from 1995 — but modernized it with the color scheme.

11. Utah Jazz
Jazz are going with the same City Editions they’ve used the past few seasons. It was announced that this would be the final time the team would wear these popular jerseys but if they’re so widely liked, why not add these to their rotation and create a new jersey instead? Maybe that’s just me.

10. Orlando Magic
The Magic have themselves a pretty nice jersey representing the city of Orlando. Maybe it’s because they revealed it with Mickey Mouse, maybe it’s because orange is my favorite color — but these get an A in my book.

9. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland found a way to combine its first two uniforms, add some modernization to it and create an epic jersey.

8. Miami Heat
Still waiting for any kind of official release for the Heat but if they go the Vice route like they did last year, it’s already a win. This video of the alleged City Editions was leaked back in October but they’re most likely it. We’ll find out soon enough — since they’re supposed to debut Nov. 29 when they play Golden State.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder went above and beyond this season with their inspiration for their uniforms — honoring those who lost their lives in the OKC Bombing 25 years ago. What stood out the most was what the organization did a few weeks back with them. Class act through and through.

6. Philadelphia Sixers
The Sixers are lucky to have so many iconic and historic pieces to gather inspiration for their City Editions. The past three seasons have gone from The Declaration of Independence to Rocky and now The Liberty Bell. A nice classic look with the added touch of the gold stripe down the side.

5. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks nailed their unis this season. The contrast of colors from black to peach really makes the lettering stand out in a good way. The black signifies strength and the peach spirit renewal. Definitely worth reading into.

4. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers easily have the best jersey in California. The team brought in a local artist who designed the look — going with Old English lettering.

3. Phoenix Suns
The Suns hit it out of the park with this one. The colors pop next to the black threads and while the jersey itself may come off as simple, the shorts add an extra element that boosted it in the rankings.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs might not end this season with a ton of wins but one of them certainly goes to this jersey. Between the color scheme, hashes on the side and nod to the classic logo, there’s a lot of things to love.

1. Denver Nuggets
Denver is one of the few teams that really embraced everything about its city for its unis. While it pulled from the team’s classic Rainbow Skyline uniform that was mainly worn in the 80s, it was still modernized to fit the advancement of the Mile High City.

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Joel Embiid's fitness level already a concern for Sixers

Joel Embiid's fitness level already a concern for Sixers

Joel Embiid didn’t earn Defensive Player of the Year or All-NBA First Team center last season.

He had the chance to go head to head and outperform the big men that took those honors last season. Instead, he had a poor second half in Utah Wednesday and followed it up with a rough performance Friday night in Denver.

Though Rudy Gobert didn’t really get the better of Embiid, Nikola Jokic had a monster fourth quarter and made a difficult, clutch shot with 1.2 seconds left to cap the Nuggets’ 21-point comeback win (see observations).

In the two games since returning from his suspension, Embiid has shot a combined 11 of 33 and committed 11 turnovers and 11 personal fouls. He’s looked lethargic and lackadaisical. He’s struggled to get back defensively and is settling for too many outside shots. He’s essentially running three-point line to three-point line instead of rim to rim.

“We’re growing Joel’s fitness base and trying to continually move that forward where he can be Joel Embiid,” Brett Brown told reporters postgame. “You know, tonight you can see that we’ve got some work to do. I think that he fought his heart out. I think that when we needed him, most times he was there. And we’re going to continue to just get him as healthy as we can and help put him in a position where he can be Joel Embiid.”

The fact that Jokic woke up and put up a 16-point fourth while Embiid continued to struggle wasn’t the only reason the Sixers lost Friday.

They somehow only scored 13 points in the fourth quarter after putting up 84 through three. They looked out of sync and were missing the decent looks they were getting. Perhaps fatigue was an issue for the entire team. Al Horford airballing a wide-open three from the top of the key with 15.7 seconds left seemed to encapsulate the horrendous final quarter for the Sixers.

While you certainly can’t blame blowing a 21-point lead on officiating, the refs didn’t do the Sixers any favors down the stretch. They were on the wrong end of two coach’s challenges — one took away an Embiid and-one and the other was a foul call on Embiid that should have been overturned but was not. On the Sixers’ ensuing possession after Jokic’s big shot, they called Embiid for a push off. The call was questionable as both players appeared to be jockeying for position and Jokic was holding Embiid’s jersey.

In any case, if you preserve the huge lead you have, you don’t leave the game in the hands of the officials.

“When I watched the replay, I didn’t really see any push off,” Embiid said. “If you want to call that foul, especially at that time of the game, I think that’s kind of BS. Especially because he was hooking me before that foul actually happened.

“But those are things we can’t control. We shouldn’t have let it get to that situation. We had a lot of turnovers, missed free throws. Our fourth-quarter offense wasn’t the same as the third. I thought that the first three quarters was the best that we’ve played. The ball kept moving and we kept finding each other and everybody stepped up. It was just unfortunate that it had to come down to that.”

But the storyline in this one was Embiid's health and fitness level.

It was the storyline for the entire 2019 postseason. Just eight games into the 2019-20 season and this is already a troubling trend. Embiid was forced to sit out the second game of the season with an ankle sprain. After missing just two games because of a suspension, he's looked completely gassed since returning.

Yes, altitude is a factor and Embiid has said many times that it’s very easy for him to get out of shape if he misses a game or two, but things have to change. 

Embiid is an All-Star and considered by most to be a top-10 player in the NBA. The Sixers are all in and part of that mindset is the idea that they have arguably the best center in the league. It’s just two games, but he wasn’t even the best center on the floor in Utah or Denver.

The questions about his health and fitness aren’t going away until he gets to the point "where he can be Joel Embiid."

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