Loss to Nuggets more evidence Elton Brand must improve Sixers’ depth

The Philadelphia 76ers were without three starters on Saturday on the road against the Denver Nuggets, and until about the middle of the fourth quarter, they were in position to win the game.

The Sixers couldn’t keep up with the Nuggets’ offense, though, and they lost 126-110 in the first game of their four-game West coast road trip.

Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler (wrist) and Wilson Chandler (hamstring tightness) didn’t play against the Nuggets; Embiid missed the contest to get some scheduled rest.

The reason Philly competed most of the game was mainly due to its quality shooting. Despite missing Embiid, their leading scorer and rebounder, the Sixers shot 38.9 percent from the 3-point line.

JJ Redick, Mike Muscala and Shake Milton each made at least three 3-pointers. Redick led the team with 22 points on 40 percent shooting from the 3-point line, and moved up the NBA’s all-time 3-pointers made list in the process.

Corey Brewer, who was signed to a second 10-day contract Friday, also contributed on offense and scored 20 points. But while the Sixers had contributions on offense, it still wasn’t enough to keep up with the Nuggets, who were mostly at full strength—Jamal Murray was out with an ankle injury.

The Sixers need more depth, and what would be beneficial for them is having a big who can come in and relieve Embiid, particularly on the defensive end. With Embiid out, the Sixers struggled to defend the interior, and they gave up 74 points in the paint.

While Embiid makes a difference for the Sixers offensively as their leading scorer, his presence on defense is just as important. He’s the anchor of their defense because of his ability to defend inside, but he also does well defending on the perimeter if he’s switched onto a wing player.

Along with having another big who can defend, the Sixers could use another wing who can defend and score at a good rate. Brewer seems like he can fit that spot, but the Sixers haven’t made a commitment to him yet. In four games with the Sixers, Brewer has averaged 10.8 points per game.

Brewer could be a good player to backup Butler, who is expected to return to the lineup Tuesday when the Sixers will play against the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s provided good energy on defense during his time with the Sixers, as he’s been a pest against opposing wings. He’s averaged 2.3 steals with the Sixers, and he had four steals against the Nuggets.

Though Philly needs depth, it was probably nice for coach Brett Brown to see players such as Brewer, Muscala and Milton give solid minutes. Muscala scored 10 points and hit three 3-pointers. Milton, a rookie, had a career-high 11 points.

With Philly not having Embiid and Butler in the lineup, it’s understandable that it couldn’t keep its scoring up late in the game against Denver on Saturday. The Sixers don’t need much depth – they have some pieces on their bench. They just need a few more players to help fill out their bench, particularly for nights when they’re short-handed.

As the February trade deadline approaches on February 7, if there’s one thing that was learned on Saturday night, it’s that the Sixers could use more depth. While easier said than done, as constructed, the team will have trouble winning games if and when either Embiid or Butler are playing at less than 100 percent… Or, as was the case on Saturday night, not playing at all.

For now, that’s Brand’s biggest challenge.

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