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Old 02-08-2019, 12:09 PM
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Friday's Essentials
Tony Mejia

Game of the Night - Denver at Philadelphia, 7:05 ET

The Tobias Harris experiment begins in Philly tonight. He’ll wear No. 33, which is ironic since the last guy who wore that number, Robert Covington, may be a better fit than the borderline All-Star the 76ers acquired to audition as the final piece in their plan for world domination.

Covington, currently nursing an ankle injury in Minnesota, was emerging as a fabulous “3 and D” guy, stifling opponents with his perimeter defense while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. He was emerging as a guy who could be counted on in the clutch, able to swing a game by knocking out a deep shot or diving for a loose ball. The Timberwolves valued him so much that they targeted him as a focal point in the deal that landed the Sixers standout wing Jimmy Butler.

Roughly three months later, Harris replaces Butler as the new guy who must be accommodated since he arrives in town having taken 15.5 shots per game with the Clippers, leading them in points (20.9) and rebounds (7.9) while shooting a shade under 50 percent from the field and an eye-opening 43.4 percent from 3-point range.

It’s that number that becomes key as we see whether Harris can indeed help put Philadelphia over the top. Can he be that efficient when he can no longer count on touching the ball every possession?

Philadelphia rolled the dice in dealing for Harris, fellow forward Mike Scott and center Boban Marjanovic, taking on salary that allows L.A. to carry a pair of vacant max-salary slots into this summer’s free agency festivities. The 76ers parted with a pair of first-round picks, two second-round selections, talented rookie shooter Landry Shamet and forwards Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, who were all a part of Brett Brown’s rotation. The Clippers weren’t short-changed.

Harris and Butler can each walk at season’s end as unrestricted free agents, so this is a risky play that will require that everyone embracing playing with one another and wanting to move forward in pursuit of titles. Setting personalities aside (even though those will surely be a factor too), it’s worth wondering whether there will be enough touches to keep everybody happy.

Ben Simmons is the point guard and Joel Embiid is the focal point, so that leaves Harris, Butler and shooter J.J. Redick in situations where they’ll need to stay ready and rhythm without handling as often as they would like. Brown regularly runs plays to get Redick 3-point looks, but Harris and Butler will have to get in where they fit in, which could create issues.

Butler is a fabulous wing defender, so he can at least remain engaged on that end of the floor and make valuable contributions if his shot isn’t falling. Harris is an average defender at best and has only become a knock-down 3-point shooter over the past few seasons thanks to Stan Van Gundy and Doc Rivers empowering him in a go-to role. He’s not going to be the first option here, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s best-suited for a sixth man role with this group where he then joins the starters in closing games out after properly finding a rhythm.

“Let’s hope he goes in there and screws up all their chemistry,” Raptors head coach Brett Brown joked on Thursday.

There’s no fear in that because Harris isn’t the type to be a disruption even if he does end up slumping, but this roster tweak is no lock by any means. The 76ers front office did give Brown more options on the wing in landing James Ennis from the Rockets and Jonathon Simmons from the Magic, putting a pair of “3 and D” guys in place. Presuming Harris and J.J. Redick start, the bench will feature holdovers T.J. McConnell, Furkan Kormaz and Jonah Bolden with a host of new faces.

The 76ers are coming off a disappointing 119-107 loss to Toronto on Tuesday despite 37 points and 13 rebounds from Embiid. The rest of the team shot 42 percent and couldn’t battle back from a 40-28 first-quarter deficit in a game they trailed by 21 points.

On Wednesday morning, the front office quickly finalized the Harris deal. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, it also was engaged on talks with the Pelicans regarding Nikola Mirotic, who wound up with the Bucks. He may have been a better fit than Harris too as an equally adept long-range shooter who is more used to the catch-and-shoot game having spent the last year-plus playing with Anthony Davis.

Philadelphia will have a lot of moving parts to blend together as it attempts to avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season as the Nuggets come to town for their only visit. Denver won the first meeting on Jan. 26, prevailing 126-110 in a game where the entire starting frontcourt of Embiid, Butler and Chandler was given the night off. Embiid is listed as questionable with an illness tonight but is expected to play. Same goes for J.J. Redick, who was reportedly dealing with a stomach bug.

Denver has dropped consecutive games and seen its Northwest Division lead over Oklahoma City trimmed to two as it wraps up a four-game road swing. The Nuggets gave up 129 points in a blowout loss in Detroit before losing 135-130 on Wednesday in Brooklyn. That’s the most points they’ve given up over any two-game stretch this season, so they’ll be looking for a stronger defensive effort despite the continued absence of top perimeter defender Gary Harris, who will miss another game due to an adductor strain.

Paul Millsap has also been out of the lineup with an ankle sprain and is listed as questionable, while Jamal Murray just got back on Wednesday after a six-game absence due to a significant ankle sprain. He was playing superb ball before going down and returned with 19 points and 11 assists in Brooklyn but missed the Philly game back on Jan. 26.

Hopefully there will be no lingering soreness limiting Murray as he looks to help the Nuggets pull off a season sweep after Nikola Jokic took advantage of a barren frontcourt by finishing with 32 points, 18 boards and 10 assists. That lopsided win was the first of the six Murray ended up missing, stunting a stretch that had seen him averaged 17.9 points and 4.4 assists over his previous 10 games. With Will Barton also back, the Nuggets could have a very strong passing team in place if Millsap participates.

The ‘under’ has prevailed in Philadelphia’s last four contests, but given Denver’s recent defensive form, could be risky. The Pistons shot 54.5 percent against the Nuggets and drained 16 of 37 3-point attempts, while the Nets shot 51. 1 percent from the field and shot a blistering 55.9 percent from beyond the arc, shooting 19-for-34.

Harris is 1-2 against the Nuggets this season, averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 5-for-13 on 3-pointers.
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