With rising optimism, Denver Nuggets and Aaron Gordon host Philadelphia 76ers

Mar 28, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon (50) controls the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After one game with Aaron Gordon in the mix, it looks like the Denver Nuggets made a smart move in acquiring the young forward.

The second test comes Tuesday night when Denver hosts the Philadelphia 76ers in a matchup of teams with title aspirations.

The Nuggets increased their chances when they acquired Gordon from Orlando last week, bolstering their frontcourt and adding another scoring option as well as a versatile defender. Gordon made his Denver debut Sunday night in a win over Atlanta and he came away impressed with his new squad.

Read More: Denver Nuggets win big at NBA trade deadline in Aaron Gordon blockbuster deal

“I see no limits for this team. It looks like we have all the pieces for this team, we have depth,” Gordon said after scoring 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 21 minutes. “We’re covered in a lot of different spots. As long as we’re working together there’s no stopping us.”

The Nuggets expect there to be some growing pains as Gordon becomes integrated into the system, but they also know there isn’t much time left in the regular season. Denver has only 26 games left, and in the tight Western Conference and a constant shifting of positioning, time is not a luxury.

“Our guys understand with (26) games to go, you look at the standings, it’s going to be a really tight race and every game counts, but It’s not going to happen overnight,” coach Michael Malone said. “Aaron Gordon is not going to fit in seamlessly tonight and be like, ‘yep, we got this,’ it’s going to take a little bit of time and we understand that.”

The Nuggets face a Philadelphia team that sits atop the Eastern Conference but with little margin for error. The Sixers are 10-2 in March but are in a stride-for-stride race with Brooklyn, which was 9-2 in the month heading into Monday night’s game with league-worst Minnesota.

Philadelphia players are well aware of the standings.

“I look at the standings, I know where we are, I know the race,” Tobias Harris said. “I’d be lying to you if I said I don’t look at the standings. I look at the standings every day; it is just something that I do.”

Being locked in such a tight battle with the Nets doesn’t bother Harris.

“I look at the standings and say, ‘We need a win,'” he said. “If it was any different, I would look at it the same exact way.”

The Sixers have stayed atop the Eastern Conference despite not having Joel Embiid for most of the month. Embiid was having an MVP-caliber season before a bone bruise in his left knee has sidelined him for the past eight games. He’s also likely to miss Tuesday’s game, too.

Read More: NBA playoff predictions: Projecting East and West top 8 seeds, 2020-21 postseason bracket

They had a four-game winning streak snapped Saturday night at the Los Angeles Clippers, the fourth of a six-game road trip that has touched down in New York (Knicks), the Bay Area (Warriors), Los Angeles (Lakers and Clippers), Denver and finishes in Cleveland on Thursday night.

Denver, meanwhile, is settling in for plenty of home games. Sunday’s win over the Hawks was the start of having seven of eight at home, with only a one-game trip to Los Angeles to face the Clippers in the next two weeks.

–Field Level Media