NBA Odds & Picks for 76ers vs. Nuggets: Back Denver To Down Embiid-Less Philly

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Nikola Jokic.

76ers vs. Nuggets Odds

76ers Odds +4.5
Nuggets Odds -4.5
Moneyline +155 / -190
Over/Under 220.5
Time Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET
TV NBA TV
Odds as of Monday and via BetMGM

This should have been an MVP showdown between Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, but the 76ers’ star big man is still out with a knee injury. It’s a serious letdown from what could have been a huge mile marker and turning point in the MVP race.

Instead, Jokic looks like he’s starting to pull away as an MVP favorite. He’s now better than even odds to win at most books, with Embiid starting to fade as he continues to miss games.

But even with Embiid out, the 76ers continue to win. Can Philadelphia steal another win without their big man in the middle?

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Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia is now 32-14, still atop the Eastern Conference standings even without Embiid, who has now missed 15 games already, almost one-third of the season so far. But he’s not the only one on the 76ers. Ben Simmons missed eight games, Seth Curry missed almost a month and the team had a long COVID-19 stretch that wrecked its rotations.

It’s pretty impressive to lead the Eastern conference after all that, Philadelphia entered the week sixth in Net Rating, per Basketball-Reference. And as much as Embiid is known for his outstanding defense, Philly has been doing it on defense, even without its big man. The Sixers rank second in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency for the season, and they’re No. 1 over the past 15 games, per Kirk Goldsberry.

The Sixers are a good rebounding team — that counts as defense too, since rebounds end possessions — and they have an excellent defensive shot profile. Philadelphia forces opponents into taking difficult shots with its length and defensive energy, and it ranks second in the NBA in 2-point percentage allowed. The defensive and rebounding margins have, for the most part, held up even without Embiid.

The offense, however, has not. Per Pivot Analysis, Philadelphia’s offensive rating drops over 12 points per 100 possessions with Embiid off the court. Philly’s free throw rate is cut nearly in half without Embiid drawing myriad fouls all game long. The Sixers also see their 2-point percentage drop from 56% to barely above 50%, and even the 3-point percent drops off significantly.

As good as Simmons has been on defense, he’s averaging 5.0 turnovers per game over these past couple weeks without Embiid, and at 15.0 points per game, he’s not been able to make up any of the scoring margin. Tobias Harris has been terrific over the past 10 games, putting up 23.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game on blazing 53/44/92 shooting. He’s been more of a playmaker with Embiid out and looks like the All-Star he proclaims himself to be, but Philly just doesn’t have enough other offense right now.

Philadelphia started 0-4 without Embiid, both straight up and against the spread (ATS). The Sixers have won eight of their last 11 without Embiid since. They’re also 8-3 ATS during that span and appear to have found something that works without Embiid — namely tough defense and just enough scoring to get by.

The Sixers had held opponents to around 101 points per game during this stretch until a double-digit loss to the Clippers on Saturday night in which LA scored 122. Six straight Philly games had gone under until that one went over.

It’s defense or nothing for the Sixers with Embiid out.

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Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are 28-18, but they’re 1-0 since Aaron Gordon took the court for them and feel pretty good about themselves. Everyone focused on what Gordon could add to this defense as an athletic wing who will be responsible to match up with the LeBron James and Kawhi Leonards of the world in the playoffs, but it was the offense that stood out most in Gordon’s debut.

Gordon gives Denver something it hasn’t had in Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green — a huge athlete who is also a real vertical threat. The Gordon-Jokic pick-and-roll already looks deadly. What do you do when a 7-foot center playing point guard comes off a screen while an athletic freak rolls to the rim and three shooters dot the perimeter, just waiting for the defense to collapse?

By the way, that 7-footer is hitting 43% of his 3-pointers this season and more than 60% of his 2-pointers in one of the best offensive seasons by any big man, maybe ever.

This Denver offense was already really starting to hum, even before Gordon showed up. Michael Porter Jr. has really found his footing lately, giving the Nuggets the big three they envisioned all year with him, Jokic and Jamal Murray. Gordon only makes them more lethal. He’s a screen and vertical threat this team hasn’t had, and he’s also a nice secondary playmaker who keeps the ball moving, which is key in this offense.

The defense has work to do, of course. The Nuggets rank 20th in Defensive Efficiency, per Basketball-Reference. Gordon can’t fix everything, and he certainly won’t fix it overnight. This version of the Nuggets is never going to be a great defensive team, but the hope is Gordon helps them be average enough to let the offense win in the playoffs.

Denver has now won six of its last eight and 11 of its last 14 games. While others in the West are faltering a bit, it feels like the Nuggets are just now starting to hit their stride as the season hits the home stretch.

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76ers-Nuggets Pick

As good as Philadelphia has been lately without Embiid, I wonder if there’s just a little bit of fool’s gold here.

Has Philadelphia really figured things out, or did it just happen to hit an easy stretch of schedule? Look at this recent stretch without Embiid. Philly has won against the Bulls, Spurs, Knicks (twice), Kings, Warriors and Lakers, with the latter two teams missing superstars. The last three losses, on the other hand, have come against the Jazz, Bucks and Clippers.

Philly has beat the bad and mediocre teams without Embiid but lost to the three definitely good teams it’s faced, twice by double digits. Every win counts the same and credit should go to the Sixers for taking care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat, but there’s little question which group the Nuggets belong in right now.

The Sixers can’t win a track meet with the Nuggets right now, and as good as Philly’s defense has been, this doesn’t feel like the right matchup. This is a game where they’ll really miss Embiid — asking Dwight Howard, Mike Scott, and Paul Reed to match up against Jokic is a fool’s errand.

So far this season without Embiid, the Sixers have typically either grinded out wins and covered or lost and failed to cover. This feels like the latter. Philly’s offense doesn’t have that extra gear to keep up with Denver’s attack, and the Sixers D can only do so much.

I think the Nuggets win relatively comfortably. Embiid’s absence is too much of a difference maker in this matchup.

Pick: Nuggets -4.5

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