Dreams of the Sixers ending another regular season with a double-digit winning streak were dashed Saturday night, as Philadelphia lost for the first time in seven games at the hands of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. Fortunately, though the performance was frustrating, that setback is but a small speed bump on the team’s road to the postseason.
With just nine games left in the regular season, the Sixers still hold a comfortable 2.5-game lead over the Pacers for the coveted third seed in the Eastern Conference. Another factor helping matters is that Philadelphia has the fourth-easiest remaining schedule in the league, per Tankathon. However, tonight’s opponent won’t be rolling over, as the Orlando Magic have everything to play for at the moment.
Despite entering play on a four-game winning streak, Orlando still sits a game back of Miami for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. Missing out on the playoffs would be especially disappointing for the Magic this season after they signaled they were all-in for a postseason push prior to the trade deadline.
Last month, Orlando chose not to deal upcoming unrestricted free agents Nik Vucevic or Terrence Ross. Vucevic is the best player on the team and made the All-Star game for the first time this season, so trading him would have probably been too hard a sell for fans. However, Ross is the type of productive wing any contender would have been happy to acquire, and Orlando could have still maintained the veneer of remaining competitive even after dealing him away. I’m sure they’ll really wish they had the late first or early second round pick Ross would have brought back if they are sitting out the postseason festivities.
Nevertheless, Orlando is still very much in the hunt, and the Sixers will have their hands full tonight. Philadelphia won both previous meetings this season at home, but lost in Orlando back in November. You may recall that loss as the game when the aforementioned Terrence Ross hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with seconds remaining, only for JJ Redick to then step out-of-bounds on the subsequent possession while seeking to tie it with a triple of his own. Nik Vucevic dropped 30 points in that Orlando victory, but the Sixers did a much better job on him a few weeks ago in Philadelphia, holding him to just 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting.
That one late-game mistake aside, JJ Redick has absolutely shined this season against the club that originally drafted him. In the previous three meetings against the Magic this year, Redick has averaged six 3s per game and scored at least 22 points in each contest. Of course, Redick isn’t the only high-profile former Magic player on the Sixers now; Tobias Harris tallied 21 points and 12 rebounds when the two clubs squared off earlier this month.
Speaking of players facing their former clubs, a former Sixer is currently running backup point guard for Orlando. No, it’s not Markelle Fultz. The Magic recently signed former Sixers Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to a 10-day contract; he has been playing around 16 minutes per night off the bench.
All indications are that the Sixers will run the full starting lineup out for this game, although James Ennis is currently listed as questionable with a right quad bruise. I’m sure the team would like to put the disappointment of the loss in Atlanta behind them, continue building chemistry among the relatively new faces, and get a new winning streak started as we wind down the end of this regular season.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia; NBA TV
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic