DENVER — Saturday night’s game was gearing up to be an exciting matchup between two of the best young centers in the NBA when the Philadelphia 76ers visit the Denver Nuggets.
Denver’s Nikola Jokic will be there, but unfortunately for the fans and the 76ers, Joel Embiid will miss his ninth game of the season.
Philadelphia, coming off a 114-110 loss to Portland on Thursday night, has decided to sit Embiid for the game against the Nuggets. He has been dealing with a bad back.
So, Embiid will head on to Phoenix, where the Sixers play the Suns on Sunday. Embiid will fly directly to Arizona and will not be with the team in Denver.
"The ability to give him more rest," Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said Friday of the decision. "It’s related to his health."
Embiid has played three straight games since missing five of the previous seven. Embiid averaged 22.7 points, 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the three games, so his presence in the middle will be missed after he scored 29 points and hit six 3-pointers Thursday.
Fans in Denver hoping to see a marquee matchup between Jokic and Embiid will have to settle for just Jokic. The Serbian big man might benefit from Embiid’s absence, although he has not experienced trouble going up against talented big men.
In two games against Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns he is averaging 22 points and 7.5 rebounds, including 22 and nine in the 128-125 overtime road loss against the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
Like Embiid, Jokic has dealt with injury this season.
He missed seven games in early December with a left ankle sprain and is averaging 18.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists in the seven games since his return.
Jokic is averaging a double-double for the season (16.2 points, 10.1 rebounds) and is already getting promoted for the Western Conference All-Star team by his coach.
"Nikola Jokic is more than deserving of an All-Star selection," Denver coach Michael Malone said after practice on Friday.
Malone would also like to see him play in the postseason in April. The Nuggets (19-16) are in sixth place in the Western Conference and on track to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13.
Denver has had some head-scratching losses this season but has also started playing better on the road. The Nuggets swept a two-game swing in Portland and Golden State just before Christmas and then took the Timberwolves to overtime in Minnesota.
Will Barton led the way with 39 points in the overtime loss but was upstaged by Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, who matched Barton’s total, but 12 came in the crucial extra period.
With Embiid out, the Sixers don’t have a go-to player the caliber of Butler, but rookie point guard Ben Simmons is close. He is averaging 16.8 points, 7.6 assists and 8.7 rebounds this season.
Simmons will be a tough matchup for Denver and will likely be matched up against Gary Harris, the Nuggets’ best perimeter defender.
Denver may be without two players in addition to Paul Millsap, who is out several months after left wrist surgery. Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez (illness) are both questionable.