The good news for the Orlando Magic (18-40) is that they have their starting frontcourt of Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon back after lengthy spells with injury. The bad news is that they still couldn’t end their current losing streak, which now sits at four games following a 120-113 defeat to the New York Knicks. Evan Fournier had the hot hand with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, while Vucevic had an efficient 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting in just 24 minutes of action. However, Gordon was still visibly rusty as he had a quiet nine points and five boards in 25 minutes.
The Magic will be hard-pressed to end their skid as they visit the streaking Philadelphia 76ers (31-25). The Sixers just about won their sixth game in a row as they squeaked past the Chicago Bulls, 116-115. Ben Simmons had a career-high 32 points, which included the game-winning free throw, to go with seven rebounds and 11 assists. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid had a monster performance of his own with 30 points, 13 boards, five assists, four blocks, and three steals.
Three keys to the game
Philly fortress–The Sixers have been sensational at home in recent weeks. They used a five-game homestand to build up their winning streak just before the break. They are now an impressive 11-1 at the Wells Fargo Center this year and have won nine in a row. That terrific home form bodes well for their chances against the Magic, who are the worst road team in the league at 7-23.
Sixers stars–Philly just about avoided a somewhat embarrassing defeat to the Bulls thanks to their two stars. Simmons and Embiid bailed them out as they accounted for half the team’s points. Those two can just take over a game and dominate at the drop of a hat. When both of them are playing at their best, it will be tough for the Magic to hang with the Sixers.
Aaron Gordon–While Vucevic didn’t miss a beat on his return from injury, Gordon wasn’t as effective as he came back from his hip injury. Given how short this Magic team is in terms of firepower, they need their leading scorer to get back in the groove sooner if they hope to keep up with Philly on the road.
Matchup to watch
Nikola Vucevic vs Joel Embiid–Vooch had a nice and simple matchup to get him started after returning from injury in the Knicks, and he capitalized on it. However, he’s set to get a significant jump up in competition against the Sixers and Embiid. But if he can hold his own, it should be a nice back-and-forth matchup against two talented and offensively versatile big men.
Magic projected starting lineup
PG–DJ Augustin | SG–Jonathon Simmons | SF–Evan Fournier | PF–Aaron Gordon | C–Nikola Vucevic
76ers projected starting lineup
PG–Ben Simmons | SG–JJ Redick | SF–Robert Covington | PF–Dario Saric | C–Joel Embiid
The Sixers’ frontcourt defense hasn’t exactly been airtight as they’ve given up some big fantasy performances to opposing big men recently (see Bobby Portis’ 38-point explosion). That should open the door for Vucevic and Gordon to have strong games as they look to get back to full capacity.
As for the Sixers, it’s hard to look past Simmons and Embiid. The Magic have been atrocious at containing opposing point guards, which should bode well for Simmons. But aside from those two, Dario Saric will be another one to watch. He’s been on fire in February, averaging 18 points and seven boards on 51 percent shooting.
The Sixers have admittedly been impressive, but ten points is a lot to cover. It’s not as if the Magic are ready to lie down just yet; their four losses during their current skid have all been relatively close. They have Vucevic and Gordon back, which should help them remain competitive against Philly. Take Orlando to at least cover as ten-point road underdogs.
The Sixers extend their win streak to seven with a 112-104 home win.
This game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia and Fox Sports Florida. Tip-off is at 5:00 pm Eastern.
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