Philadelphia (40-30) took full advantage of a soft three-game home stand, posting victories over Brooklyn, Charlotte and Memphis. The 76ers completed their sweep Wednesday night with a 119-105 victory over the Grizzlies, overwhelming them with a 41-point third quarter as all five starters finished between 13 and 15 points and got to watch the fourth quarter from the comfort of the bench.
Rookie Ben Simmons totaled 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds while Dario Saric, Robert Covington and J. J. Redick were a combined nine for 16 from 3-point range. Philadelphia have won four straight and 15 of 20 overall, and their next victory will ensure them of their first non-losing season since going 35-31 in the lockout-shortened 2011/12 campaign.
Orlando (21-50) reached the 50-loss mark for the fifth time in six seasons after being stifled in the fourth quarter of their 93-86 loss at home to Toronto on Tuesday night. Aaron Gordon had 16 points and six rebounds in his return after sitting out five games with post-concussion symptoms, but the Magic were held without a basket for the first 7:30 of the fourth quarter as they squandered an eight-point lead and finished the final period with ten points.
While the Magic have lost back-to-back games and seven of their last eight overall, they can take solace in a defense that has limited the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, albeit missing key players, to 185 combined points. Orlando’s overall mark of 109.1 points per game allowed ranks 24th in the NBA.
Three keys to the game
"The process" is almost complete - Wednesday night's win reduced Philadelphia's magic number for clinching their first playoff berth in six years to four, and it also allowed them to keep pace with the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom they trail by 1.5 games for third in the Eastern Conference.
Gordon and Isaac a possible shut down tandem - Prior to Tuesday night's loss, Gordon and rookie Jonathan Isaac had played just 67 minutes together all season. Magic coach Frank Vogel likes the idea of playing them together because of their length to fluster opposing offenses, and in that small sample, the Magic had held teams to 89.9 points per 100 possessions in those 67 minutes. Overall, Orlando are yielding 108.6 points per 100 possessions, so the 76ers should expect a large dose of Gordon and Isaac.
Sixers going for a first season sweep of Magic in club history - Philadelphia have had only two winning streaks of three or more games against Orlando since the Magic entered the league in 1989, the first a three-game run spanning the 1989/90 and 1990/91 seasons and then a four-game stretch bridging the 2002/03 and 2003/04 seasons. After two wins by a combined 30 points this season, a victory would give the 76ers their first sweep of the Magic.
Matchup to watch
PF Dario Saric vs PF Jonathan Isaac - With Vogel committing to give Isaac starter minutes, this will be a good test for the rookie as Saric presents an inside-out matchup. The second-year 76ers forward shook off a two-game slump with 15 points versus the Magic and hit three of six from 3-point range.
Isaac's offense is far behind his defense at this point, which is to be expected considering he has missed more than half the season due to injury, but there have been some flashes as Isaac has averaged 7.2 points in his last five games.
Philadelphia 76ers projected starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - J. J. Redick | C - Joel Embiid | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Dario Saric
Orlando Magic projected starting lineup
PG - D. J. Augustin | SG - Arron Afflalo | C - Nikola Vucevic | SF - Aaron Gordon | PF - Jonathan Isaac
Denied a fifth consecutive double-double because he played less than 20 minutes Wednesday night, Embiid will have to start a new streak. This will be the sixth time he will play on back-to-back nights, having averaged 25.0 points and 14.0 rebounds while shooting just 39.4 percent in the previous five.
Embiid has posted double-doubles in both wins over Orlando this season, compiling 46 points and 28 rebounds while making 17 of 34 shots. He has four double-doubles in as many career games versus the Magic, averaging 22.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 49.3 percent.
Simmons also had a streak of four games with a double-double or better end in Wednesday's win, but he is still putting up solid numbers. He extended his run of shooting 40 percent or better to 18 straight games by going six for nine against the Hornets, and Simmons has averaged 15.1 points, 9.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds in that span while connecting on 57.6 percent of his shots.
Simmons missed the first win over Orlando due to a sore elbow, then totaled 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds in last month's victory. In his last nine road games, the rookie has averaged 15.4 points, 9.7 assists and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 58.4 percent and compiling a 3.11 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Gordon has had two solid games versus Philadelphia this season, totaling 36 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists while making six of 12 from 3-point range. He has averaged 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in 11 career matchups with the 76ers, shooting 37.9 percent (11 for 29) from beyond the arc and 48.5 percent overall.
Backup guard Shelvin Mack has provided an offensive spark in the last two games, totaling 33 points on 13-of-29 shooting. It is his highest output in back-to-back games since scoring 41 for the Utah Jazz in wins over Washington and Sacramento on March 11 and 13, 2016. Mack had seven points in the most recent meeting, a 116-105 win for Philadelphia on February 24, after playing 90 seconds in the first matchup.
The 76ers are seven-point favorites for this game, with the line moving one-half point in their direction since it opened. While they have covered in the last four meetings overall and in five of their last six visits to Orlando, Philadelphia are also 3-8-1 against the spread in their last 12 games when playing on the back end of consecutive nights.
They are 3-1-1 versus the number in their last five games against Southeast Division opponents but 3-9-1 in their last 13 on the road. The 76ers are also 2-5-1 against the spread in their last eight games versus teams with a losing home record.
Orlando have covered in four of their last five at home and are 14-6 against the number in their last 20 matchups with conference rivals, but they have also dropped four of their last five versus the spread when facing Atlantic Division foes.
The over/under is 212.5 points, with the over hitting in the last four contests between the teams and five times in the last six in Orlando. The under, though, has come through fives times on the last six occasions the 76ers have played on the back end of consecutive nights and also has hit five times in their last six games versus Southeast opponents.
The under has posted a 7-2 mark in Orlando's last nine games overall and a 6-2 record in their last eight versus Atlantic Division rivals.
The 76ers did all the right things and made all the right moves against the also-rans of the league at home, the question is now whether they can do it outside Wells Fargo Center. They have posted wins in their last four road games versus sub-.500 teams since a 105-101 loss at Memphis on January 22, so if the focus is there, there is no reason they cannot make it five straight.
One thing that has helped them on the road is good 3-point shooting. Philadelphia have connected in 41.0 percent of their long-range shots in their last seven games, winning four while averaging 13.0 treys in that span.
The Magic rank near the bottom in overall defensive field goal percentage but are in the middle of the pack in 3-point defensive field goal percentage, and with Vogel using a long frontcourt of Gordon, Isaac and Nikola Vucevic, expect the 76ers to see if they can stretch that defense on the perimeter to find holes for Simmons to attack the paint.
Depending on how long they take to get to Orlando from Philadelphia with the recent weather issues, they could be slightly tired at the outset, but as a young team, it should not matter all that much. Look for the 76ers to ensure their first non-losing season witn an 82-game schedule in seven years with a 106-93 victory.
The game will be televised nationally on NBATV and NBATV Canada. It will also be televised locally on NBC Sports Philadelphia+ and Fox Sports Florida. Tip-off time is 7 pm EDT.
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