Short-handed Sixers fall just short in Denver: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (29-14) visited the Denver Nuggets (31-15) on Saturday. Philadelphia wanted to rebound from Thursday's loss to the Indiana Pacers. Denver wanted to avenge last week's loss to the Sixers in Philadelphia. The short-handed Sixers fell just short, 111-105.
Before we get to the action, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who was a late scratch with a sore left knee. Tyrese Maxey missed the game with a sprained left ankle. Tobias Harris was out with an illness.
De'Anthony Melton is recovering from a stress response to lumbar spine soreness and was not available.
Robert Covington is recovering from a bone bruise in his left knee and was out.
Mo Bamba has right knee inflammation and was not available.
Kenny Lofton Jr. missed the game due to personal reasons.
Nick Nurse started Patrick Beverley, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nico Batum, Marcus Morris Sr., and Paul Reed.
The Nuggets were without the services of Julian Strawther, who has a right knee contusion/sprain.
Vlatko Cancar is recovering from surgery on his left knee and is out for the season.
Collin Gillespie and Braxton Key are on two-way assignments with Denver's G League affiliate and were not available.
Michael Malone started Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic.
- Just when the Nuggets thought Embiid's late absence meant that a midrange threat had suppressed itself, an unlikely hero stepped up to supply the long two sniping that the big fella usually brings to the floor. No, it wasn't Morris - who, by the way, was awesome around the elbows in the first half. Rather, it was Reed who donned the cape, flushing jumper after jumper to help take the pressure off the halfcourt offense.
To be completely fair and honest, it wasn't like Denver gave him much respect. The Nuggets were asleep for most of the first half and happily surrendered those shots to a guy they didn't trust to capitalize on open looks. But, while open jumpers give flashbacks to the comfort of practice, there's also a bit of self-imposed pressure to not look foolish. So, credit to Reed for making the Nuggets pay for leaving him so open.
- Even though it hasn't equated to a large volume of wins, I think Nurse has largely figured out how to strategize when Embiid is not available or is recharging on the bench. Look no further than how Philadelphia used Morris in this game.
The Sixers couldn't contain Murray on offense, but they damn sure weren't going to let him go unpunished on defense. They sought switches high on the floor, getting the guard matched up with the much bigger Morris facing up above the free throw line or posting from the left elbow. And, to Morris' credit, he took him to the woodshed all first half. Morris rose up over decent contests from Denver's starting point guard, lacing midrange jumper after midrange jumper to help keep the Sixers competitive ahead of halftime.
- Really cool seeing Beverley mic'd up for this game. His in-game coaching was awesome. Easy to see why the lineups sans Embiid have been so lively this season.
- The "Embiid playing in Denver" discourse was destined to take a turn for the worst if he did not play in this game. That he was a late scratch due to knee soreness was probably the worst possible outcome for the conversation around Embiid. But, there's a critical point being totally ignored in the dialogue about Embiid missing this game: he's said that he's not focused on winning MVP this season.
Embiid won MVP last season, of course. He then got crucified for vomiting all over the court in Games 6 and 7 against Boston in the second round of the playoffs. So, Embiid has pivoted to caring only about being healthy for the postseason. And, to his credit, he's been consistent in saying that his focus is being his best self come playoff time.
So, if he's not concerned with winning MVP this season and has even recently said that Jokic is the best player in the league, what is there to still be upset about? We can't grill Embiid for not showing up in the playoffs and then get all bent out of shape over him missing regular-season games. Pick your side.
It seems to me that this is about Denver faithful still being out of shape over last season's MVP, and they think Embiid should have to defend his honor in their building. And to that I say you have too much time on your hands.
- This could've very easily fallen under the "Likes" category, but, frankly, I needed to fill up the "Dislikes" and the play that it really stood out on ended up being a turnover for Philadelphia. It was a pick-and-roll between Beverley and Reed; Reed delivered a half-hearted pop, and Beverley delivered a bounce pass to no one because his big man did not roll.
The pick-and-roll, at its best, is a two-man dance. Not two separate entities brought together by a screen. The screener has to read the defense to beat the ball-handler to the decision he's about to make. But, at the same time, the screener has to master matching his ball-handler's movements.
Reed rushed a decision before reading the defense and his teammate. If there isn't a miscommunication and the defense doesn't give you a runway to the easy decision, you have to stay engaged in the action and dance with your teammate until the defense is vulnerable. If the ball-handler probes, you have to stay available and keep the big peeled back to account for the lob threat. It was only one play; not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But, Reed still has a ways to go in his mastery of the two-man game.
The Sixers (29-15) will visit the Portland Trail Blazers (13-32) on Monday. Tip-off is scheduled for 10 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBA TV.
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