Preview: Denver Nuggets face East-leading 76ers

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

It would have been hard to script a better debut for Aaron Gordon Sunday night, as he comfortably fit in to his new surroundings in a dominant 126-102 victory for the Denver Nuggets over the Atlanta Hawks.

In just 21 minutes of action, Gordon scored 13 points on 66.7 percent shooting and added capable on-ball defense against the likes of Trae Young and John Collins. Gordon was one of six Nuggets in double-figures, as Denver used a complete team effort to secure the victory.

MORE: Three takeaways from win over Hawks

Further adjustment will be needed in the coming weeks as Gordon and JaVale McGee get comfortable in their new surroundings. A second opportunity for growth will take place Tuesday as Denver (28-18) hosts the Philadelphia 76ers at Ball Arena.

Philadelphia (32-14) continues to be without Joel Embiid, but that hasn’t slowed the team’s progress, as they’ve gone 8-2 in the last 10 games. Although the 76ers are an above-average team on both ends of the floor, their defense often leads the way, as they own the league’s fourth-ranked unit on that end of the floor.

Denver won the first meeting between the two teams back on Jan. 9, 115-103 against a 76ers squad that was extremely short-handed.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Will Barton III, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokić

Injury report:

MONTE MORRIS – LEFT QUADRICEPS STRAIN. OUT.

GREG WHITTINGTON – LEFT KNEE SORENESS. QUESTIONABLE.

TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and NBATV, 92.5FM

Key matchup: Aaron Gordon vs. Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons continues to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as a 6’11” point guard capable of setting up the offense and running in transition. Denver will likely throw multiple looks at Simmons defensively on Tuesday but look for Gordon to get the opportunity to slow down the Australian All-Star.

After all, one of main drivers for trading for Gordon was his ability to guard multiple positions and bigger players like Simmons. With averages of nearly 16 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game this season, Simmons does a little bit of everything as one of Philadelphia’s leaders on both ends of the floor.

As mentioned earlier, Gordon’s debut with the Nuggets was very efficient as he continues to pick his spots in the offense and get adjusted to Denver’s schemes on both ends of the floor. Tuesday’s matchup against Philadelphia provides Gordon with an early opportunity to showcase the value he brings on the defensive floor against a player like Simmons.

The battle on the offensive glass

Tuesday’s matchup could very well come down to which team earns extra possessions on the offensive end of the floor.

Denver (third in offensive rebound percentage) and Philadelphia (seventh) are two of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league this season, with that being a driving force for both offenses on a regular basis.

For the 76ers, earning extra possessions on the boards helps overcome the 27th-ranked turnover percentage, while Denver works to overcome the 30th-ranked free-throw rate through extra possessions.

On the other end of the floor, both teams are close together in terms of finishing defensive possessions with a rebound. Philadelphia ranks 11th in opponent offensive rebound percentage, while Denver is slightly behind at 15th. Dwight Howard could see a larger role in Tuesday’s matchup to guard Nikola Jokić and help the 76ers on the defensive glass.

Get back in transition

The 76ers are going to look to run at any opportunity and push the pace at Ball Arena Tuesday night.

Philadelphia ranks fourth in the league in frequency of possessions beginning with a transition play, which helps overcome the league’s 18th-ranked halfcourt offense. Unfortunately for Denver, getting back and defending in transition has been a challenge this season, as the Nuggets rank 24th in the league in their opponent’s points added per 100 possessions through transition play.

It will be crucial for Denver to secure the defensive glass and get back in transition following turnovers and missed shots on Tuesday in hopes of slowing down Philadelphia’s attack and sweeping the season series.

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