While Wednesday’s Christmas Day over the Bucks was certainly an enjoyable romp, and may provide some confidence for the 76ers against a potential playoff opponent, it still counted for just one game in the standings, exactly the same as tonight’s contest down in Orlando. The Sixers have developed somewhat of a pattern of getting up for “big” games, while playing down to what might be considered lesser competition.
Despite holding onto the 8th seed in the East, the Magic would definitely fall into the latter category, having struggled to a 13-17 record thus far. However, the Sixers only need to look back one month to recognize the danger of overlooking this particular opponent. Orlando won the first game between these clubs back in mid-November, 112-97. Joel Embiid did not play in that game and Nikola Vucevic led all scorers with 25 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Hopefully, Embiid, fresh off his masterful two-way performance against the Bucks, will go a long way towards swinging the outcome in the Sixers’ favor in this second meeting.
Evan Fournier currently leads the Magic in scoring at 19.2 points per game, shooting 47.7 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from 3. Fournier is almost certain to decline his player option this summer, and will be a hot commodity in what is widely considered to be a weak 2020 free agent class.
One bright spot for Orlando’s future has been Jonathan Isaac, who has exploded in his third season with career-highs across the board (points, FG%, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks). While shooting a respectable 34.1 percent from 3 and 80.3 percent from the foul line, Isaac is third in the league in blocks at 2.6 per game. He has blocked at least one shot in 27 of 28 games this season, with his only blemish coming last week in Denver (I would blame the altitude).
Of course, I would be remiss to end any Sixers-Magic preview without a mention of Markelle Fultz. Philadelphia’s former first overall pick has firmly settled in as Orlando’s starting point guard, averaging 11.7 points and 4.1 assists in 26 minutes per game. There are both good and bad signs as far as Fultz’s shot is concerned. He is shooting 3s, but somewhat reluctantly (just 1.6 attempts per game), and not at all effectively (25.5 percent). Fultz is shooting an encouraging 76.2 percent from the foul line, but with just 2.2 attempts per game, it wouldn’t seem to be a situation Markelle is actively looking to seek out. The shot still looks ugly, and unless that ever changes, it seems like Fultz will top out as a low-end starter/high-end bench player, despite improvements in other areas of his game.
We’ll see if the Sixers come out tonight and avoid a let-down game before the higher-profile clash in Miami tomorrow night.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Matisse Thybulle (out - knee)
Orlando: Michael Carter-Williams (out - shoulder); Al-Farouq Aminu (out - knee)