Erase the Ben Simmons saga completely for now because the Philadelphia 76ers (8-7) eye larger concerns in their efforts to wriggle free from a season-long five-game skid, going into Thursday night’s road matchup against the Denver Nuggets (9-5).
“There’s no cavalry coming right now,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said, after Tuesday’s 120-85 loss in Utah. “We’ve got to play with what we have. We understand that. We’ve just got to do better. We don’t have a margin of error in games. We almost have to play perfectly to have a chance to win a game, and for a while we were doing that. Right now, we’re not.”
Philadelphia enters the third game of its current six-game road trip – which you can watch live on Sky Sports from 2am – without the services of Kia MVP candidate Joel Embiid (health and safety protocols), Danny Green (left hamstring) and Matisse Thybulle (health and safety protocols), but Rivers remains resolute in his team’s ability to weather the storm, shorthanded or not.
The Sixers suffered their fifth consecutive loss on Tuesday, with four more road outings in the West left on the schedule before they return home on November 27 to host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It’s just a long season,” Rivers said. “You go through a lot of games. There’s nobody here worried. When you have the injuries we have and the games we’ve played… listen, I want to win every game. But I do understand what we’re under right now, too.”
Embiid has missed the last five games due to the NBA’s health and safety protocol, while the same issue kept Thybulle out of Philadelphia’s last six outings. Green suffered his hamstring injury last week, before aggravating it in Saturday’s loss at Indiana, while Simmons has yet to make his 2021-22 regular-season debut.
Before the current five-game losing streak, the Sixers had reeled off six straight victories, including two wins against the now-10-5 Chicago Bulls.
“We’re in a little rut with guys out, so you just work through it,” Rivers said.
Denver certainly feels Philadelphia’s pain.
Already missing star guard Jamal Murray (left knee), the Nuggets are expected to face Philadelphia without swingman Michael Porter Jr. (lower back) and Zeke Nnaji (right ankle), while guard Will Barton (lower back) is listed as doubtful. Barton missed the last two games, while Nnaji sat out of Monday’s loss at Dallas.
Still, the Nuggets had captured five straight home wins, before falling Monday on the road 111-101 to the Mavericks.
The loss came during a stretch of four games in six nights for Denver.
But during their homestand at Ball Arena, the Nuggets held each opponent to fewer than 100 points, marking the first time in franchise history the club accomplished that feat. In fact, Denver has limited opponents to fewer than 100 points in all eight of its home outings on the way to running off a record of 7-1 at Ball Arena, marking the longest such home streak since March 2005. Denver currently ranks in the top five defensively in five statistical categories (points allowed, opponent second-chance points, defensive rating, opponent field goals made, and opponent 3-pointers made).
The matchup against Philadelphia is the first of a back-to-back set that concludes Friday when the Nuggets host the Chicago Bulls.
“Once we get home [we’ll] try to get Will back, try to get Zeke back, and try to get all of these other guys that have been playing a lot of minutes – and so much is being asked of them – and try to get them the rest,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “And we can come back against Philly.”
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Nikola Jokic scored 35 points and 16 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets’ loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Week 5 of the NBA
Luckily, Denver can lean on reigning Kia MVP Nikola Jokic, who is coming off a season-high 35 points against Dallas to go with 13 rebounds and six assists. Jokic has produced two triple-doubles in the Nuggets’ last four games.
If Barton can’t play for Denver on Thursday, Doc Rivers’s son, Austin Rivers, will start at guard in his place. In his second start of the season at Dallas, Rivers scored a season-high 12 points to go with three rebounds and a steal in 29 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the elder Rivers, the 76ers coach understands fully what’s ahead for his short-handed team. After the contest against the Nuggets, Philadelphia continues on the road, where it faces Portland, Sacramento, and a red-hot Golden State squad the day before Thanksgiving.
“There’s nothing immediate [that we can do],” Rivers said on Tuesday. “We’ve just got to keep playing, keep doing what we’re doing and get better.”