The return of some of the Sixers’ top players, most importantly Joel Embiid, ended on a sour night on Saturday night as they lost to the Timberwolves in double overtime, 121-120.
Apart from a few bad turnovers and a slower first half at both ends of the floor, Embiid had a fantastic return. He started ramping up in the third quarter and finished with 42 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, one steal, and two blocks, showing off some excellent shot-making late in the game. But with the Timberwolves playing solid, aggressive defense and Tyrese Maxey (15 points on 5-of-15 shooting), Tobias Harris (17 points on 6-of-16 shooting) and Seth Curry (14 points on 4-of-11 shooting) all struggling, Embiid just didn’t have enough help to lead the Sixers to a win.
On Monday, the Sixers will have a chance to bounce back against the Magic, who’ve fallen to 4-17 and last place in the Eastern Conference after a six-game losing streak.
Ben Simmons remains out for personal reasons, and Shake Milton (groin soreness) has been upgraded to questionable.
For the Magic, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac have both been out as they continue recovering from ACL tears, while Michael Carter-Williams (recovering from ankle surgery) and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) both remain out as well. As for recent updates for Monday’s game, the team’s top scorer Cole Anthony is out with a right ankle sprain. Mo Bamba and Terrence Ross are both questionable with low back spasms.
Anthony has made a leap this season. He’s averaging 19.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. It’s his growth as a shooter that stands out most, as he’s been far more aggressive firing off the dribble from deep and has upped his three-point attempts from 3.7 per game as a rookie to 7.7, making 36.6 percent of them. Adding that range to his drive game has been huge for him.
Anthony has missed the last five games, though, and the Magic’s offense has looked lost without him. Orlando’s offensive efficiency has plummeted without Anthony on the floor all season, falling from 109.5 points per 100 possessions with him to a useless 92.3 without him (for reference, Oklahoma City currently ranks last in the NBA with an offensive rating of 100). The sample size is still reasonably small at this quarter-way mark of the season, but it’s been obvious just how much the Magic need his scoring, passing, and creation off the dribble to get their offense moving.
Two of the Magic’s young bigs have also stepped up this season. Mo Bamba is playing fairly well at both ends of the floor. He’s playing a career-high 29.7 minutes a night and has diversified his offense with far more three-point attempts at 4.2 per game, which he’s making at a 33.7 percent clip. Wendell Carter Jr. is also having his best year as a pro so far and has shown far more confidence as a shooter as well, making 39 percent of his 3.9 three-point attempts per game.
While neither Bamba or Carter Jr. should worry the Sixers from three-point range that much, Philly’s bigs will still need to be ready to step up to the perimeter and contest increased pick-and-pops. Unfortunately for Orlando’s defense, Bamba and Carter Jr. still aren’t great matchups against Embiid’s strength and physicality as a low-block maestro and foul-drawing machine. And if Bamba is out, Robin Lopez (who started on Saturday when Bamba was sidelined) will have the daunting task of covering Embiid.
Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs are two rookies to keep a close eye on as well. Suggs has gotten off to a bit of a slow start offensively in the NBA, but Wagner has been pretty impressive with his shooting, passing, flashes attacking off the dribble, and defense on the wing.
There have been bright spots for the Magic this season. They have promising young pieces in place as they work to assemble a core and identity for the future now. But with their current slump, numerous injuries, and offensive decline without Anthony on the floor, they find themselves ranking in the bottom four in both offensive and defensive rating.
If players like Harris, Curry and Maxey can return to their usual selves after having off scoring nights against Minnesota to give Embiid more support, the Sixers should have plenty of firepower to handle this Magic squad. Especially with Anthony ruled out to make their offense even weaker.
Before the Sixers depart on another testing road trip with matchups against Boston, Atlanta and Charlotte (twice), Monday night’s game against the Magic should be a good opportunity to pick up a win.
When: 7:00 pm ET, November 29, 2021
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic