In a virtual replay of a game just five days ago, the 76ers came out flat on defense against a playoff-racing Orlando Magic team. Unlike five days ago, the Sixers offense wasn't up to the task of keeping up. At one point down 29, the Sixers woke up with a smaller lineup which fueled a comeback, but as it goes with this team it was not enough. Orlando scored 130 en route to a 14 point victory.
The Magic scored 77 first half points, the second most points any team has scored in the first half of a game this season. Aaron Gordon and Nik Vucevic combined for 20 points in a 40 point Magic first quarter. The two Magic bigs combined for 50 on the game. Victor Oladipo also had 28 points for Orlando. The team finished a strong 10-16 from three despite not being a great shooting team.
Orlando's first half offense, fueled by a lackluster defensive effort by everyone on the Sixers, was the story of the game. It's unfair to single out one person on the Sixers for the collapse, as we default to doing often when times go bad. Nobody came with consistent defensive effort in the first half. Not one person. It was embarrassing in many ways; for instance, when the Magic stole the opening tip and Jahlil Okafor didn't make the contest on a Mario Hezonja fast break dunk. For another, there was one play Ish Smith and Okafor collided causing a turnover, where the Magic broke for a fast break 4-on-1 on Nik Stauskas with no one else attempting to retreat on defense. Or for another, where Nerlens Noel saw Aaron Gordon open and chose not to contest, instead opting for rebound position.
It's at the point now, six games after the end of the NBA's all-star break, where you don't expect to see the defensive effort anymore. The season is winding down, and at this point the team is just counting down the days.
1. Nerlens Noel sat the final 21 minutes of the second half, and not due to injury. Noel's energy level dictates whether the Sixers play palatable or putrid defense. He is the single biggest determining factor, as any center is likely to be, but is naturally also the best defender. In a typical game, the Sixers being good or bad on defense will depend on his performance. In all but maybe one game since the second half of the season started, his effort has been sub-par. His benching may have been an attempt to send a message.
The Sixers started their comeback with a three-guard lineup with Ish Smith, T.J. McConnell, and Isaiah Canaan with Jerami Grant and Richaun Holmes. Orlando started playing sloppily against pressure, fueling a comeback. The lineup has no real future given the makeup, but it's the second time this three-guard lineup fueled a big comeback this season.
2. The guards overall haven't helped in denying penetration, though. Stauskas and Ish Smith are terrible at it. Only Canaan might be considered good. He had a strong offensive performance too, with 18 points off the bench.
3. Jahlil Okafor scored 26 points on 12-18 from the floor, 2-4 from the line, which has become standard as of late. Okafor entered Sunday's action shooting 62.5% since the all-star break. By the powers of math, he actually improved upon that tonight. He managed just three rebounds in his 28 minutes.
4. Check out Liberty Ballers' twitter account for appropriate (and inappropriate) first half reaction gifs. Go to Orlando Pinstriped Post for their reactions to the game.
5. Blog favorite Mario Hezonja got the start for an injured Evan Fournier and scored 13 points. Orlando's game ops crew also deserves props for the Super Mario coin collecting sound being played after every basket. Hollis Thompson missed the game for the Sixers with flu-like symptoms and a golden opportunity to pump up stats in a blowout game.
6. The Sixers get a leap day game against the Wizards tomorrow night, as per NBA's new royal decree the Sixers can only play against the Orlando and Washington ad infinitum, who combine into a mediocre basketball team-comprising Diagon Alley.