The 76ers are back in action tonight against the Orlando Magic tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. Something has got to give, and either the Magic or the 76ers will come away with their first victory of the season.
The Sixers have looked fairly impressive for roughly three quarters in every game of basketball so far this season. In Monday's home loss to the Houston, Nerlens Noel single-handedly frustrated Dwight Howard and any Rocket who dared to lob a pass to their franchise center. K.J. McDaniels also had a hand in the block party while attempting to dunk on anything and everything in sight. It was really fun!
But the Sixers engine ran out of steam, just like it has in each game so far the year. Last season, the team saw the opposite effect early in the season, where the team often outlasted its opponents late in games. Most of that was attributed to the Brett Brown fitness program, though it may simply have been luck, and regression might be hitting hard. Or it could just be that the team has so few offensive options that the returns diminish as the game goes on.
However, the Magic might be the exhausted, sluggish fourth quarter team this time around, flying in overnight after a tough, close loss to the always-physical Chicago Bulls.
Tonight may be the Sixers' best chance to string offense together. Ranked last in offensive efficiency through four games, there's only so much that can be done while Michael Carter-Williams continues to heal from offseason shoulder surgery. Tony Wroten can get to the rim whenever, but the lack of spacing options mostly result in wild layup attempts and relatively low-value free throw attempts. The team must rely on internal improvement and simply weather the storm until MCW comes back and can create more opportunities to score.
However, many of the defenses faced so far appear to be good ones. Indiana and Houston have dominant rim-protectors, Milwaukee has length and a surprisingly frisky defense (third in defensive rating per NBA.com), and Miami's been a stout defensive team since Erik Spoelstra installed his hyper-active defense.
Orlando lacks rim protection with Nikola "Should Of Kept" Vucevic and sharp-shooting big Channing Frye. The Sixers might have their best chance to feast at the rim.
On the Magic end, Victor Oladipo, 2014 ROY runner-up, is out with an injury. Exciting rookie Elfrid Payton will run ragged in the pick-and-roll with Frye, and Vucevic will be Nerlens Noel's biggest challenge on the boards yet, in an area which Noel's clearly struggled with. Other young Magic talents, like Tobias Harris and Evan Fournier, should have big roles in this game. Sadly also should Ben Gordon, because we can't have entirely nice things.
Coming off the game last night, without Oladipo, the Magic are very beatable. Let's hope so, because there won't be too many opportunities to say that this season.