Friday night’s game against the Orlando Magic had all the makings of a Sixers victory. Philadelphia was on three days rest, and had Joel Embiid at their disposal for 28 minutes, his first game with the revised playing restriction. The Magic, losers of five of their last six, were playing their third game in four days.
But it was the Sixers who came out looking like they had the dead legs, posting a brutal shooting start to the game, even by Sixers standards. They went seven minutes and 34 seconds between buckets in the first quarter, shooting 0-13 during that stretch and 6-26 from the field after one period of play. Philadelphia’s last lead of the game came midway through the first quarter, and from there the team spent the rest of the night trying and failing to play catch up.
The Sixers would lose 104-88, an embarrassing home loss to a team that is 29th in the NBA in points per game. Friday night’s contest would be Philadelphia’s fifth straight loss.
- Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together: Philadelphia planned to play Embiid and Okafor together against the Sacramento Kings, but circumstances outside of their control prevented that. Similarly to Sacramento, the Magic utilize a big front court, so Brown let the two run together, and early returns looked alright. They played nearly 13 minutes together, and the team was +3 during that run. Embiid finished the night with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Jahlil Okafor chipped in 16 points and 13rebounds off the bench. It’s the first time both bigs have posted a double-double in the same game. Embiid provided the necessary floor spacing for Okafor to work down low, knocking down 3-5 three point attempts. In their first appearance together in the second quarter, the pair ran some high-low action, with Embiid hitting Okafor with a pass from the perimeter, which Jahlil deposited for a quick deuce around the basket. I have my doubts about this working longterm; if Embiid is going to guard fours in this lineup, then their rim protection will inevitably take a hit, similar to what happened with Noel last season. Still, it’s worth seeing again as the season progresses, and may not be such a terrible idea situationally.
- Okafor’s rebounding: We’ve given him a lot of crap over the past two seasons, but it’s worth noting when he plays well, and tonight was one of those nights. Against a Orlando front court that’s ninth in the NBA in rebounding, Okafor showed some physicality and effort, leading to his first double-digit rebound performance of the season. He also had six offensive rebounds, which lead to a couple easy putbacks. Hopefully Okafor realizes that the more offensive rebounds he can grab around the rim, the more opportunities he has to score, because getting buckets seems to be the only thing that makes him tick. Regardless of his team worst -19, a solid performance from him.
- Aaron Gordon: Gordon’s really had a rough start to his season, yet nothing gets a guy going like playing the Sixers. A career 28.6 percent shooter from three, Gordon was 2-4 en route to 20 points. He knocked down a couple turnaround jumpers, which isn’t his game at all, and had a couple easy looks around the rim. When he’s dropping a season-high in points, you know you’re not having a good night on the defensive end.
- Sixers offense: Philadelphia couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bag of rice against the Magic. They finished the game shooting 37.9 percent from the field and 28.1 percent from beyond the arc, which led to this brutal shot chart.
Hollis Thompson and Nik Stauskas reverted to old form by combining for 2 points on 1-13 shooting, and the Sixers need them to be consistent if they want to have a fighting chance.
- Sixers defense: The Magic finished the game shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Jodie Meeks accounted for four of the team’s 13 made three-point attempts. Orlando got a lot of quality perimeter shooting looks due to poor rotations and allowing too much space to shoot. Sergio Rodriguez looks like a human turnstile on the defensive end, and Hollis Thompson and Gerald Henderson both really struggled to contain Gordon. Things may be getting worse on that end too, as the team’s best wing defender, Robert Covington, exited the game in the fourth quarter with a left knee sprain.
- Dario Saric: Saric’s game has really gone in the tank over the past two weeks, so to speak. He’s shooting just 25.6 percent over his past five games, including a 1-5 performance against the Magic. Saric doesn’t look comfortable at all shooting right now, and the fact that he’s not good off the dribble basically just has him taking up space on the offensive end. He was inevitably going to struggle at some point during this season, but hopefully he’ll snap out of sooner rather than later. Philadelphia needs the offensive production off the bench.
The Sixers will be back in action against the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, with no Joel Embiid to lead them.