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3 observations after Sixers flip big-time switch in Orlando, notch fourth straight win

In Sports
January 20, 2024

3 observations after Sixers flip big-time switch in Orlando, notch fourth straight win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

With one game left until the halfway point of their regular season, the Sixers have won exactly 80 percent of the time in Joel Embiid‘s appearances.

That’s clearly no coincidence.

Embiid delivered his typical dominance Friday night in Orlando, leading the Sixers to a 124-109 win at Kia Center. They’re now 24-6 when he’s played and 27-13 overall.

The six-time All-Star big man easily scored at least 30 points for a 19th consecutive game, posting 36 on 12-for-22 shooting. He also had seven rebounds and four steals.

Tyrese Maxey recorded 32 points, five assists and three steals.

Orlando center Wendell Carter Jr. notched 25 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Paolo Banchero tallied 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine stress response), Robert Covington (left knee inflammation), Mo Bamba (right knee inflammation) and Jaden Springer (right ankle tendinitis) remained out. Franz Wagner and Gary Harris were sidelined for the Magic.

The Sixers will play again Saturday night in Charlotte against the Hornets. Here are observations on their fourth straight victory:

Embiid, both offenses locked in from the jump 

The Sixers’ game-opening play call got Embiid an isolation touch against Goga Bitadze at the nail. Naturally, Embiid drained a jumper right away.

Nicolas Batum canned a corner three-pointer on the Sixers’ second play and the team took a 12-4 lead on a fast-break Tobias Harris layup.

In addition to those transition hoops, the Sixers’ early half-court offense was solid. They ran some multi-layered actions off of Iverson cuts by Harris, spacing the floor well and consistently creating good looks. Under eight minutes into the game, Embiid had 11 points, Harris seven.

Similar to the first quarter of the Sixers’ win Tuesday over the Nuggets, offense generally won out early in Orlando. While the Sixers forced six first-period turnovers, they allowed regular dribble penetration and didn’t solve their problems on the defensive glass. Embiid fouled Cole Anthony behind the arc with one second left in the first quarter and the Magic guard made all three of his foul shots, putting Orlando up 34-32.

Flipping a big-time switch  

The Magic’s bench was far superior to the undermanned Sixers’ in the first half.

Carter scored 13 points, Joe Ingles hit all three of his long-range jumpers, and Orlando ultimately held a 36-5 bench scoring advantage at halftime.

Paul Reed’s subpar first stint ended when he received the ball on a fast break, took a few awkward steps ahead, and got called for traveling. Embiid subbed back in and almost immediately knocked down a wide-open three.

A little later, Embiid pump faked, stepped through, and tossed a pass to himself off the backboard. He then threw down an All-Star Game-esque dunk.

Embiid kept seeing single coverage in the middle of the court, so he kept scoring very efficiently. On several occasions late in the second quarter, the Sixers used a simple action with Maxey setting a down screen for Embiid on the left side of the floor to generate comfortable iso opportunities for the reigning MVP.

Maxey found his shot, too. He made a second-chance three to cap a 16-2 Sixers run and give the team a 62-52 lead. The trio of Embiid, Maxey and Harris scored 57 of the Sixers’ 68 first-half points.

Ideal Night 1 of back-to-back

Although Embiid played below his usual unstoppable standard in the third quarter, he produced timely buckets in response to a 9-0 Magic spurt.

With the Sixers’ lead down to four points, Embiid patiently posted up Bitadze and tossed in an elegant hook shot. And when the Magic tried to double team him at the elbow, Embiid split Banchero and Bitadze before slamming the ball in.

The Sixers soon stabilized as a team, improving their defensive focus and limiting Orlando to 16 third-quarter points. Embiid also earned four free throws late in the third and sunk all of them. Following an 11-for-11 game at the foul line, Embiid is at 88.5 percent this season, which would be a career-best mark.

Without Embiid, the Sixers expanded their advantage early in the fourth quarter; it swelled to over 20 points on a put-back layup by Marcus Morris Sr. (10 points, nine rebounds). Patrick Beverley had a nice stretch that featured a swift defensive rotation and block on Orlando forward Jonathan Isaac as he tried to rise for a layup.

There was no real suspense about the outcome in the final minutes. Rookie guard Terquavion Smith got to make his Sixers debut and drained two long-distance shots in his brief stint. Ricky Council IV scored his first NBA point, too.

On the first night of a back-to-back, Embiid was able to enjoy that (and the whole fourth quarter) from the bench.

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