This season, for a number of reasons, we ditched our traditional 76ers game preview posts. However, since tonight’s contest against the Nuggets is being viewed by many of our readers and the ‘experts” on sports radio as a real litmus test game for the 7-6, we decided to dust off our “Fo’ with the Foes” preview series…
This late afternoon edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s foes, Danilo Gallinari and the Denver Nuggets (9-5), who should provide us with a decent measuring stick for this Sixers team.
This should be an excellent game tonight as the Nuggets will present some interesting challenges for the 76ers defense. Denver is the second highest scoring team in the League right now (104.1 ppg.) and have been held below 100 points just three times this season. So the Sixers defense — arguably the best in the NBA right now — will need to be it’s usual tenacious self.
Smooth shooting forward Danilo Gallinari leads the Nuggs attack. While he’s only averaging 17 points per game, he’s capable of going for 25 or more on any given night. Also, the Nuggs bigs could expose the Sixers significant interior defensive issues. Al Harrington — 14 and 5 per — and Nene — 12 and 8 per — are both having very solid seasons. The other Nuggs post players — Timofey Mozgov and Chris Andersen — are no slouches either. Add in Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo and Corey Brewer on the perimeter to compliment Danilo and you’ll see the Nuggs have the ability to beat you inside or out and thus they will stretch the Sixers defensively.
However, despite the challenges the Nuggs high powered offense presents, the Sixers will win this game tonight.
Here’s are two reasons why: (1) The Nuggs defense struggles mightily to get stops — 25th in the League at 98.4 ppg. — and is allowing opponents to shoot 46% from the field. For instance, last night they allowed Brandon Jennings to score 30 on 13-22 shooting. That same Brandon Jennings had 7 points on 3-11 shooting against the Sixers on Monday (Thanks mostly to Jrue Holiday’s stellar D)…and (2) Andre Iguodala — we assume he will be on Gallinari most of the night and that’s not good news for Danilo. As we all know, AI9 is one of the best defenders in the League. Currently he’s holding opposing small forwards to a PER of 8.2 (NBA avg. is 15).
Throw in the fact that the Nuggs also played last night in Milwaukee while the Sixers are as rested as a team can be in this 66-game season and we believe the Sixers secure another home W tonight.
For a little more insight into the Nuggets team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Jeremy from roundballminingcompany.com to answer four questions on the Nuggets from us here at Philadunkia. We think his answers will provide you with an insider’s perspective on this DEN squad.
Philadunkia: So far this season, the Nuggs are 3-3 on the road and 6-2 at home. Is this a pattern you see running throughout the 2011-12 season or was a tough early road schedule (L’s @ POR; @ LAL; and @ SAS) the reason behind the Nuggs road issues thus far?
Jeremy @ roundballminingco: Denver has never been a good road team. Only once in team history have they finished above .500 away from the Mile High City. I believe the reason comes down to their frenetic style of play. As long as the Nuggets primary focus is to run teams off the court at home, they are going to struggle to win on the road because that formula is difficult to duplicate in someone else’s building, especially against good teams. This season I believe they have a shot at finishing over .500 thanks to their depth and the advantage that will provide over other teams with the condensed schedule.
Philadunkia: What has been the most pleasant surprise for you with the Nuggs so far this season?
Jeremy @ roundballminingco: There really have been no big surprises with this team, but there have been many smaller ones. For instance Danilo Gallinari is a good passer, Corey Brewer is much better offensively than expected and Ty Lawson has become more aggressive and a borderline All-Star.
The biggest pleasant surprise has to be Al Harrington. I was never a fan of his signing two summers ago and he seemed like a no-brainer for amnesty. However, with Denver not looking to pay someone a load of money not to play for them amnesty was probably never a realistic option. Harrington committed himself to getting in better shape and it has shown. The change has been significant to the point you could make a case over the first few games of the season that Big Al was Denver’s best player. Not only is he not an amnesty candidate, but he is an essential part of this team. He is not the quality defender he once was in his younger years, but his offense is vastly improved.
Philadunkia: Do you see Gallinari holding as a 15-17 points & 5 rebs a night guy this year or can he “bust out” and average 20+ points a game for this season?
Jeremy @ roundballminingco: I do not expect Gallo to “bust out” any more than he already has. We just posted a 3-on-3 diagnosing Gallinari’s progress (http://www.roundballminingcompany.com/2012/01/17/3-on-3-danilo-gallinari-edition/) and the general consensus was he is a little too unselfish. Is he unselfish because he is smart enough not to force bad shots, or because he struggles to create his own shot in isolation? I believe it is a little of both.
If Gallo wanted to score 20 a night, I think he could, but at the expense of his solid efficiency. The biggest area of improvement in my mind has been that he is taking shots at the rim nearly as often as he is from behind the arc, plus his awkward drives generate quite a few free throw opportunities.
In order for him to be able to significantly increase his production and retain his efficiency, he is going to have to add more to his game primarily a post-up game and a consistent pull up jumper. Once he can master those two areas, he really could be an All-Star. At the age of 23 he certainly has time to develop and Denver fans are hoping that what he has displayed this season is just the tip of the iceberg and not the entirety of the ice cube.
Philadunkia: There are rumors that Chris Andersen is available. Is there any truth to these rumors and if so why? Would you take Nocioni’s expiring contract for him (Half kidding here)?
Jeremy @ roundballminingco: I do not believe Denver is really interested in trading the Birdman. He had a recent misunderstanding with George Karl that resulted in a DNP-CD, but he has been back on the floor for both games since then. Plus, trading Birdman without receiving a more capable big man in return, which is unlikely, would result in the Nuggets being dangerously thin up front unless Karl suddenly decides to start playing Timofey Mozgov and/or Kosta Koufos big minutes.
That being said, Bird has been one of the more disappointing Nuggets this season. His game is so reliant on athleticism that any slippage in that department will be deadly. It looks like there has been some minor decrease in his movement and leaping ability and he is struggling to make a difference. Regardless, he still launches himself into the air as soon as his opponent even considers looking towards the rim, which is incredibly frustrating.
If Andersen was on the block, I believe Denver could get more than just any expiring deal. He is still a big body at a reasonable salary. If they do anything, I could foresee them packaging Birdman and Andre Miller’s expiring deal to get a quality big man in return.
Philadunkia: Prior to the 2011 NBA Draft, a host of local “experts” were very hot on the idea of the Sixers selecting Kenneth Faried out of Morehead State. He seems to be having trouble getting any minutes in Denver — he’s only played in two games. Can you provide some insights as to why?
Jeremy @ roundballminingco: You have touched on one of the most frustrating story lines of the season for Nugget fans. Everyone loves Kenneth Faried and everyone longs to see the Manimal in action. He was widely regarded as found money in the draft when he fell to Denver and he seems like the kind of high energy, rebounding force that could really help the Nuggets.
Most frustrating in my mind was in a recent home loss to the Hornets when the team was flat and the crowd seemed disinterested Karl did not take advantage of having Faried on the roster. It was the perfect time to insert him into the game and pump up the building a little bit. Karl chose not to and Denver never made any significant run at the shorthanded Hornets.
The most widely spread explanation why the Manimal remains chained to the bench is he is so lost defensively in practice that Karl is scared to death of putting him on the court. That makes little sense to me as none of the Denver big men have conducted themselves very well on the defensive end of the court this season. Faried will undoubtedly make mistakes, but how bad can he be?
He has only appeared in two regular season games, he was admittedly nervous in his first career game and it showed. However, in his second outing he exploded and his play enveloped the court like a dust cloud. He was everywhere and made play after play including an alley oop slam (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3m0an2HVwA) that may be the play of the year for Denver to this point. Karl has the reputation of not playing rookies, he points to Ty Lawson in an attempt to prove otherwise, but the reputation is pretty well deserved. I just do not see how he can resist putting Faried on the court more frequently.
Do not let his early lack of playing time fool you. Manimal’s time will come, just not soon enough for Nuggets fans.