In fact, the next three will count. They all count, technically, but when we're talking about national and even local recognition, the Sixers haven't beaten anyone noteworthy. Starting tonight, they'll get the chance to change that.
The Denver Nuggets represent an interesting challenge for the Sixers. They've enjoyed many of the same benefits in this early season: little turnover on their roster; young legs and depth. In the depth department, they're one of the few teams who compares to Philly, and may even surpass them.
The Nuggets have used their depth to run out-run a lot of teams. They play in the high altitude of Denver, they pump the pace up (96.6 possessions/48 minutes, fastest in the league) and more often than not, their opponents have wilted. Last night, they evened up their record on the road at 3-3 with a double-digit win over the Bucks, who played yesterday, so they could again press that advantage. Tonight, they're going up against a younger team, a team who didn't play yesterday, and a team who can throw their own depth around (and the Sixers' bench brigade doesn't consist of a 35-year-old Andre Miller, a 33-year-old Chris Andersen and a 31-year-old Al Harrington). If the Nuggets come in expecting to run the Sixers right out of the gym, they're going to be in for a rude awakening.
The Nuggets have a big advantage on the inside in Nene. The Sixers don't have anyone who can handle him, which means they're going to have to make a decision. They can allow Hawes or Brand to take him one-on-one down on the blocks, or they can double. I'd prefer the former, because Denver constantly has shooters on the floor. If they do decide to double, it has to be decisive and the entire team has to be extremely crisp in their rotations. The Nuggets haven't shot the three particularly well this season, but they've shot it well enough where giving them a dozen open looks from deep will beat you. I'd prefer doubling off Andre Miller, if given the choice, since he can't shoot the three.
Tonight will be a good chance to see just how far the Sixers have come in their pick-and-roll defense. Lawson and Nene will run it frequently, and if the Sixers' starters have problems with it, don't be surprised to see Thad get early minutes. They'll put him on Nene so he can blow up the P&R out high and they'll live with Thad's post defense on the big man if they try to go that route. Jrue can't be lazy on those screens, because Lawson will stop and shoot the three, he has to fight over them and the big has to show. More importantly, Jrue has to make Lawson actually use the screen, if he cheats early, Lawson will reject it and use his speed to cut the other way and get into the lane.
On the offensive end, I'd go to Jrue in the post on the very first play. Then I'd go to him in the post on the second, third and fourth plays until Karl is forced to switch Lawson onto Meeks, then I'd isolate Igoudala with Gallinari on him and attack that matchup (if it exists). Basically, the Nuggets have one perimeter defender in their starting lineup, Afflalo, the other two guys can be attacked, and they should be attacked. Make Karl go to Brewer (who had the best game of his career last night).
Off the bench, we know exactly what to expect out of Andre Miller. Don't bite on the pump fakes in the lane, keep your eyes open for the back door and lobs. Don't get lulled to sleep thinking he's old because he's got that sneaky athleticism he'll break out every fifth or sixth game to shock you. Al Harrington always seems to kill the Sixers, like a lot of stretch fours do. If you wind up in a big lineup with Harrington on the floor, Brand has to make him pay on the defensive end. Go to the blocks, work him over and if/when Denver doubles, hit the threes when he kicks it out.
Denver has run over people by constantly applying pressure on the offensive end. They push the ball up the floor, they run a brisk offense and they attack the rim. The Sixers run over teams because they apply 48 minutes of hellish defensive pressure. It's the classic immovable object vs. an unstoppable force and it should make for one hell of a game.
The tip is at 7pm. Game thread will land around 5.