What to watch for as Sixers face reigning MVP without Embiid


The Sixers are still on the road, still on Mountain Standard Time, and still trying to end a losing streak that’s stretched to five games.  

Here are the essentials for their game Thursday night against the Nuggets, who are 9-5 overall and 7-1 in Denver: 

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

And here are three storylines to watch: 

No marquee matchup 

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and MVP runner-up Joel Embiid last faced each other in December of 2019. Unfortunately, the earliest they’ll play again is March 14, 2022, the second and final Sixers-Nuggets meeting this season.

Embiid is set to miss a sixth consecutive game after testing positive for COVID-19. Matisse Thybulle remained in the NBA’s health and safety protocols as of Thursday morning, too, while Danny Green (left hamstring tightness), Ben Simmons (personal reasons) and Grant Riller (left knee injury recovery) were all still out. 

The Nuggets are down Michael Porter Jr. (lower back pain), Jamal Murray (left knee injury recovery) and Zeke Nnaji (right ankle sprain). Will Barton was listed as doubtful with lower back pain. 

Facing Denver undermanned is nothing new for the Sixers, who had seven healthy players on Jan. 9 and lost despite 39 points from Tyrese Maxey. The Sixers allowed the Nuggets to score 44 first-quarter points in a March defeat head coach Doc Rivers described as an “awful game.”

Can Drummond hold his own? 

After squaring off Tuesday against three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, things won't get easier for Andre Drummond.

A silver lining is he should be fresh. Drummond only played 12 minutes and 18 seconds during the Sixers’ loss to the Jazz. The Sixers were outscored by 22 points in that time and Rivers preferred small ball for much of the night.

Drummond’s troubles scoring around the rim have been a problem for the Sixers. Though he’s at 61.8 percent from the foul line, which would be the best mark of his career, Drummond has managed just 99.1 points per 100 shot attempts according to Cleaning the Glass. That ranks in the 13th percentile among NBA big men and is even worse when considering Drummond is almost exclusively a close-range shooter.

Jokic, meanwhile, has begun the season playing like an MVP. He’s averaged 26.1 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, 13.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He leads the league in a host of advanced statistics, including win shares and player efficiency rating. 

Any bounce-back nights in store?

The Sixers’ 36.7 percent mark from the floor and 20.7 percent mark from three-point range in Utah were both lows for the season.

Furkan Korkmaz’s 2-for-18 performance against the Bucks wasn’t a one-game aberration — he’s 8 for 31 (25.8 percent) since — and Seth Curry is coming off of a 1-for-8 outing against the Jazz. 

As is the case in any sport, there’s likely some luck involved in players getting hot or cold around the same time. With Curry, it’s also notable that he hasn’t looked great since missing the Milwaukee loss with a left foot contusion. A common factor, however, is Embiid’s absence.

It’s more essential for shooters like Curry and Korkmaz to take advantage of open looks without the Sixers’ superstar center. And, on a team lacking a player that consistently commands double teams, there’s less reason to go into games believing great shots will naturally present themselves. 

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