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Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray Lead Nuggets to Big Win vs. Ben Simmons, 76ers

Blake SchusterSenior Analyst IIIMarch 31, 2021

Philadelphia 76ers center Dwight Howard, left, defends as Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic looks to take a shot in the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Denver Nuggets finished off a season series sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers with a 104-95 victory at Ball Arena on Tuesday night.

In a matchup of two teams that could meet in this year's NBA Finals, Denver got 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists from MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, while the Sixers attempted to get past the Nuggets without their MVP candidate in Joel Embiid (knee). Instead, Philadelphia has now dropped back-to-back games after falling to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday.

Denver, meanwhile, has rattled off three straight victories and continues gaining ground in the West standings.

  

Notable Performers

Michael Porter Jr., SF, Denver Nuggets: 27 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists

Jamal Murray, PG, Denver Nuggets: 30 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists

Tobias Harris, PF, Philadelphia 76ers: 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks

Ben Simmons, PG, Philadelphia 76ers: 11 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds

Slow Start Dooms Sixers

It's easy to forgive the 76ers for being worn down. They've traveled from New York to San Francisco to Los Angeles to Denver in the span of nine days while facing multiple contenders. That doesn't excuse their first quarter performance against the Nuggets on Tuesday, but it does help explain it. 

Even with Dwight Howard starting in place of Embiid, there's very little to take away from the first 12 minutes of play against Denver except that it cost Philadelphia the game. 

The Nuggets came out and absolutely throttled the Atlantic Division leaders, taking a 44-22 lead at the end of the first frame while shooting 66.7 percent from the field. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. outscored the Sixers by themselves with 16 points and 14 points, respectively, as the Sixers sank just nine of their first 20 field goal attempts. 

NBA @NBA

Murray & MPJ combine for 30... @nuggets go for 44 PTS on 66.7% shooting in the 1st Q on NBA TV! 🔥 https://t.co/gIMhW2wACl

But more distressing than the Sixers shots that didn't fall was the apparent lack of interest in crashing the boards.

Denver out-rebounded Philly 13-4 in the first quarter and 51-34 for the game.

The 76ers spent the rest of the game trying to cut into a Nuggets lead that refused to budge, making an already tired team look that much more spent. Nights like these are rare for the Sixers, but they happen.

That doesn't make it any easier for head coach Doc Rivers and a roster full of title-hopefuls to stomach.

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

Ball is movin' and we're feeling goooood https://t.co/C9GyZh4Wcz

  

MPJ Continues To Shine In Denver

The Michael Porter Jr. show has arrived in Denver in earnest. 

Denver Nuggets @nuggets

The man just makes it look 𝙩𝙤𝙤 𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙮. 27 PTS | 12 REB | 68.8% FG #MileHighBasketball https://t.co/7OAysX6dwr

A highly-touted recruit out of high school, Porter played just three games in college with a lower back injury, then missed his entire first season in the NBA after undergoing offseason back surgery. That made the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season Porter's first real taste of the NBA. 

A year later, and 91 games into his pro career, Porter is looking more like an NBA mainstay than many of the 13 players selected ahead of him in the 2018 draft.

It wasn't just that he scored 27 points with 12 rebounds against Philly. It was that he did it against a frontcourt featuring legitimate stars in Tobias Harris and Danny Green. On Tuesday, Porter looked way more like the veteran than his counterparts. 

StatMuse @statmuse

MPJ last 20 games: 19.0 PPG 8.8 RPG 57.5 FG% 50.9 3P% +152 +/- (leads team) https://t.co/TnMsPKJ9LI

As Denver adjusts to the addition of Aaron Gordon up front, Porter should have more room to work with defenses almost required to key in on Jokic and the former Magic star. That'll leave plenty of opportunities for Porter to expose mismatches on the wing.

With the Nuggets preparing for a long playoff run, Porter may be the key to making it happen. Against another contender Tuesday, he showed he's more than ready to take on the responsibility that comes with it. 

  

What's Next?

The Sixers' West Coast road trip wraps up Thursday against the Cleveland Cavaliers at 7 p.m. ET. The Nuggets will head to Los Angeles for a Thursday showdown against the Clippers at 10 p.m. ET on TNT.