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76ers vs Magic: The return of Nikola Vucevic

The 76ers will go for 3 in a row as they welcome Nikola Vucevic back to the Wells Fargo Center. Vucevic, a former 1st round draft pick by the 76ers who was included in the trade for Andrew Bynum, is averaging a surprising 12.1 points and 11.3 rebounds on the season.

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The 76ers are going for 3 wins in a row, something they haven't done since November.

If they win, it would be 4 of their last 5, something they haven't accomplished all season.

That being said, the story of the night will be Nikola Vucevic, returning to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time since being traded to Orlando as part of the trade that brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.

Much has been written about the production of Nikola Vucevic, and we've countered (not once, but twice) that Vucevic, for all his rebounding glory, has some very big deficiencies.

While the deficiencies are still there, even his efficiency has been improving drastically. He shot 56.9% from the field in January and so far hos shot 57.1% from the field in February. The scary thing? His 54.2% true shooting percentage would be tops among our regulars, and his 0.128 win shares per 48 minutes would be second on the team, just behind Thad's 0.129.

His numbers of late have been cartoonish. After 12.1/12.8 in December, Vucevic followed that up with 14.4/12.9 in January and 17.0/13.0 so far in February. He hasn't had less than 9 rebounds in a game since December 12th, and he has had a double-double in 14 of his last 17 games.

Overall, I agree with the strengths / weaknesses I wrote when I profiled Vucevic for LB before the draft (where I called that the 76ers would draft him based on reports I was hearing, I might add), he has been even more of an impact rebounder than I thought he would be. He has undeniably exceeded my expectations, and I give him all the credit in the world for the hard work he has put in.

Yes, Vucevic would be a far better backup big man to Andrew Bynum (this is me trying to think positively. Bynum will play with the 76ers for a long time, dangit!) than Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen, or (cringe) Kwame Brown, Vucevic was not included in the deal because Doug Collins had him rated the least valuable of the 4, but because Vucevic was the only one of the 4 that the Magic placed any value in. Let's try to remember that.

And, while Vucevic is dropping 18 and 14 on the stiffs the 76ers throw out there at the pivot position, let's also keep in mind the Magic have lost 9 in a row and 20 of the last 22. You look at the Magic from virtually any angle -- Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, offensive rebounding, free throw rate -- and they're one of the worst teams in the league. Perhaps not so surprisingly, defensive rebounding (where the Magic are the 4th best in the league) is their one legitimate strength, and it's where Vucevic helps them the most.

In fact, the Magic's strength/weaknesses as a team virtually mirrors Vucevics. They struggle to defend, don't get to the line at all (with the 76ers the only team worse in the league), struggle to score efficiently, don't really pound the offensive glass, but they do hit the defensive boards hard.

Not only have the Magic been bad, but they're beaten up. Glen Davis is out for the next 2-3 months, Arron Afflalo has missed the last 4 games and Jameer Nelson missed yesterdays games with a forearm contusion. Also, DeQuan Jones, and Al Harrington will also miss tonights game, leaving the Magic without 6 players, including their top 4 leading scorers.

Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner should have a field day against E'Twaun Moore and J.J. Redick whoever is starting for J.J. Redick.

Rounding out the rest of the Magic lineup? Andrew Nicholson and Maurice Harkless. Harkless, who played a couple of summer league games with the 76ers after being drafted by them last summer, scoring 19 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, to go along with 4 steals and a block last night against the Bucks.

At the very least, the game should be interesting.

Game thread will be up at 6:30.

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