What once looked like an intriguing matchup featuring two of the game's most promising young point guards might not include either one of them.
Lawson left late in the third quarter of Denver's 106-98 loss at Boston on Friday with a left hamstring injury. It's not clear if the ailment will sideline him Saturday, which would be his first missed game this season.
Lawson's career-best 19.3 points per game not only leads the Nuggets (11-8), but it is one of the best marks among the league's point guards. He's also averaging a personal-best 8.2 assists and his 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio is the highest he's posted in five NBA seasons.
Denver was 8-1 without him in 2012-13, though helping to neutralize his absence was the currently-injured Danilo Gallinari as well as Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, who now play for Golden State and Minnesota, respectively.
The 76ers (7-13) also couldn't overcome being without Carter-Williams on Friday, losing 105-88 in Charlotte while the rookie from Syracuse was sidelined by a sore right knee. He had played in the club's last seven games after missing four in a row in mid-November due to a bruised left foot. His status against the Nuggets is unclear.
Philadelphia is just 1-4 without Carter-Williams, whose 7.3 assists per game lead the team while his average of 17.7 points trails only Evan Turner.
Denver's season-long six game trip - Saturday marks the fifth stop - could easily end in a sour fashion without Lawson, particularly if Brian Shaw's club can't improve its first-quarter defense.
The Nuggets fell behind 14-0 against the Celtics, leading to a 39-15 deficit after 12 minutes. It marked the fourth straight game in which they've been outscored in the first quarter and the third time in that span that they've allowed at least 31 points in the first frame.
"Second consecutive game in a row that we basically got beat up, got hit first," Shaw said. "We told our team before the game started tonight that regardless of their record, they're going to come out and fight to stay in first place. And they did that."
Philadelphia would also like to shore up its defense in the early portion of games. They're allowing an NBA-worst 56.8 first-half points per contest.
The Bobcats scored 62 in the first 24 minutes Friday while shooting 54.3 percent from the floor while handing the Sixers their ninth loss in 11 games.
"We've got to start the game off better defensively," said Tony Wroten, who scored 21 points with nine assists and eight rebounds while starting at point guard. "We played better on defense in the second half, but we've just got to play defense like that for the whole 48 minutes."
Wroten is averaging 19.8 points and 6.2 assists over five starts in place of Carter-Williams, though he's just 2 of 18 from 3-point range in those games (11.1 percent). Carter-Williams is shooting 32.4 percent from long range.
Turner was limited to 17 points while committing nine turnovers as the teams split two meetings last season.
Spencer Hawes averaged 16.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.5 blocked shots while shooting 63.6 percent.