It hasn't always been pretty, but the Sixers have now won three out of four in Disney World.
They beat the Magic, 108-101, at HP Field House Friday night. Orlando is a strong defensive team that has trouble scoring but doesn't turn the ball over. After slugging it out for most of the game, the Sixers used their size advantage to put the clamps on the Magic in the fourth quarter to come away with the victory. The Sixers had four players finish with 20 or more points.
Ben Simmons (left patella subluxation) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) were out for the Sixers. Aaron Gordon (left hamstring strain) and Michael Carter-Williams (tendon strain in left foot) were also out for Magic. Jonathan Isaac (torn ACL) is out for the rest of the season.
The win improves the Sixers to 42-27. They take on the Trail Blazers Sunday night.
Here are observations from the win:
All-Star big vs. All-Star big
Joel Embiid always seems to struggle against former Sixer Nikola Vucevic, an All-Star last season. Vucevic is built solidly, positions himself well and doesn’t foul. That seems to be the best combination in defending Embiid.
Embiid came into the night averaging 32.7 points and shooting 58.3 percent from field in his first three games in the bubble. He’d also been averaging 11 free throws a game. He had just six points on 3 of 8 and settled for too many jumpers in the first half. He attempted just one free throw before halftime.
In the third quarter, Embiid came out with a much more aggressive mentality. He was working harder to get post position against Vucevic and making his touches count. He took eight free throws, making six, and had 12 points in the period. He finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Harris has been the Sixers’ second-best scorer, averaging 24 points a game and shooting 38.9 percent from three so far in the bubble. He also struggled mightily from the field early in this one. To his credit, Harris hit the offensive glass aggressively for a couple easy baskets and took advantage of the Magic missing so much of their size. It is worth mentioning that Harris came up limping after a put-back dunk in the first quarter. Harris, who was leading the NBA minutes played before the restart, still played 40 minutes.
It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that once Embiid and Harris got going, the Sixers started taking control of the game. Harris finished with 23 points and tied a season-high with 15 rebounds.
The Sixers went to Al Horford early in the post. Horford, getting the start in Simmons’ place, had a huge size advantage with the 6-foot-6 Gary Clark playing the four. The veteran got off to a strong start, looking spry on both ends of the floor. It was one of the better games for the Embiid-Horford pairing this season. Horford had 21 points and nine rebounds.
Both of the Sixers’ point guards played well, but it was Alec Burks, who posted a team-high 13 first-half points, that stole the show. Burks showed exactly why GM Elton Brand made the move to acquire him. Burks is a three-level scorer with the ability to create his own shot, a skill set no other Sixer has — at least not at the level of Burks. He helped bust up the Magic’s attempt at a zone by knocking down a couple of threes in the first half and has shot the ball very well in Disney World.
Burks will likely be in line for more minutes with Simmons out. Even if Simmons is able to return, Burks’ ability to score should put him in line for a bigger role. He had 22 points, his highest point total as a Sixer, and hit 3 of 7 from three.
Shake Milton was solid, playing arguably his best defense in the first four games of the restart against the crafty veteran D.J. Augustin — though Augustin did get it going in the second half. He also did well getting the team into the offense. He finished with a career-high eight assists and had just one turnover.
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