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Sixers return home looking to bounce back vs. Magic

Philadelphia 76ers v Orlando Magic

The Sixers fell flat in Monday’s matchup against the Wizards, ultimately losing 117-98. After a recent hot stretch of wins, the Sixers began the game with poor energy, gave up an early lead, and could never fully recover. Their defense never picked up consistently after a horrible start, and apart from Tyrese Maxey chipping in with 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting, Joel Embiid (who had 32 points) simply didn’t have nearly enough help offensively to turn things around.

Well, on Wednesday the Sixers have a great opportunity to bounce back to their winning ways. They’ll be going against the Magic, who are stuck in 15th place in the Eastern Conference with the worst record (8-37 for a 17.8 win percentage) in the league.

The Sixers will still be missing some of their rotation. Shake Milton (back contusion), Danny Green (right hip pain) and Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder sprain) all remain out, as does Ben Simmons. Jaden Springer and now Paul Reed are both out on G League assignment with the Blue Coats. For Orlando, Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle recovery), Markelle Fultz (left knee recovery), E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee recovery) are all still out as they rehab from their respective injuries, while Wendell Carter Jr., who’s been having a really solid career year, is questionable due to left hamstring soreness.

Even though their latest outing resulted in a lacklustre loss, the Sixers have been playing well overall in recent weeks. They have a 15-9 record since Embiid returned from COVID-19 on Nov. 27 which includes nine wins in their last 11, they’ve ranked sixth in defensive rating in this span, and Embiid is playing like the best player in the NBA right now. Even though not all of their opponents have been too tough, these developments have been encouraging. Not to mention strong wins against both Brooklyn and Miami showed what these Sixers can be capable of. And despite various COVID-related absences and injuries to deplete their rotation, the Sixers have still managed to rack up wins.

For the Magic, things haven’t been going so well. With a bottom-five offense and defense, their -9.1 net rating ranks a woeful 29th.

One positive for them is that Cole Anthony is back. While his shooting has been a little off since returning from an ankle injury on Jan. 5 (against Philly), he’s still been a huge difference maker for the Magic this season. With a team-high and career-high 18.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, plus more shooting capability off the dribble, Anthony has made Orlando 9.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively when he’s on the floor — despite a recent drop in his efficiency. Containing Anthony will be the main task for Tyrese Maxey at the point of attack and the Sixers’ bigs when they contest near ball screens and recover against his speed getting downhill in pick-and-rolls.

Franz Wagner will be another key opponent to watch. The 6-foot-9 forward has been having an impressive rookie season, averaging 15.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while showcasing some versatile shot-making, passing flair, and crafty flashes off the dribble. He also had a solid outing against Philly earlier this month with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Against a Sixers’ wing/forward rotation missing Green and Thybulle, while Tobias Harris continues to play worse defense than last season, Wagner could find more opportunities to create. Charlie Brown Jr. at 6-foot-6 would still be undersized in this matchup, but his length and lateral quickness could be useful in containing Wagner — the recent addition from the Blue Coats has stood out on defense and has already helped pester several opposing wings, as he did well against Miami.

Meanwhile, Orlando’s centers like Carter Jr., Mo Bamba and Robin Lopez just don’t have the combination of speed and strength to contain Embiid or keep him off the free throw line. He went off for 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting last time on Jan. 5, and having some favorable matchups to attack while he’s in such terrific form should help give the Sixers a major lift.

If Maxey can use his quickness to bother Anthony somewhat on defense, Embiid has his way against Orlando’s frontcourt again, and the Sixers generally wake up defensively, they should be able to get back on track with a win. After their lacklustre effort against Washington, they should be motivated to grab a victory while they have this kind of opportunity against a team stuck firmly at the bottom of the conference.

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Orlando Magic

When: 7:00 pm ET, January 19, 2022

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers

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