It’s been a helluva past few days for Philadelphia sports. The Sixers squeezed out a huge victory versus the one-seeded Denver Nuggets, and the Eagles are advancing to the Super Bowl. The Sixers will look to keep the good vibes going, facing off against the rebuilding Orlando Magic.
At a glance, the Magic’s 19-31 record doesn’t seem too intimidating. They’re in the basement of the loaded Eastern Conference, and they’re still figuring things out. But make no mistake, there’s a very solid foundation that they’ve built over the past few seasons. They’ve won some games against worthy opponents before, with W’s against the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, and LA Clippers.
Orlando’s magic starts off with their rising duo of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero. Wagner has put together a productive sophomore season, averaging 19.9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 49.2 percent shooting. He’s shown he can do a bit of everything and has showcased some growth in the playmaking department.
Banchero, on the other hand, will likely end up with the Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season. He’s averaging 20.5 points and 6.3 rebounds in 33 minutes of play. There’s a lot of season left to go, but Banchero could join a talented list of rookies who have averaged over 20 points per game. Recent examples include Zion Williamson, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, and Joel Embiid — all of whom have turned out pretty good.
As a team, the Orlando Magic have embraced the roster building strategy of acquiring lengthy players that are versatile. Wendell Carter Jr. is quietly averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds, Bol Bol is as intriguing as a prospect can be, and they do have an abundance of talent in their backcourt with Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, and our old friend Markelle Fultz.
Speaking of Fultz, this will actually be the first time he’s played in Philly since he was traded nearly four years ago. Pretty wild.
On the year, Orlando ranks 25th in offensive rating while ranking 24th in defense. The talent is there, but it’ll take some time to piece things together.
Meanwhile, the vibes have been immaculate in Sixerland. They’ve had the best offense in the NBA since James Harden returned from injury in early December, and have won 20 of their past 25 games. They’ve been dominating, and a lot of it has to do with James Harden and Joel Embiid’s unstoppable pick-and-roll game.
It's by the slimmest of margins, but...— Avi Wolfman-Arent (@Avi_WA) January 26, 2023
The Sixers now have the NBA's best offense since James Harden returned on December 5 (per Cleaning The Glass). pic.twitter.com/u4Kk7SfxkN
Assuming he plays (more on that below), Embiid will look to build on what might he his best performance ever. He lit up Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets with 47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks. Harden also put up an excellent statline of 17 points, six rebounds, and 13 assists with no turnovers. It was rough early on in the year, but this duo continues to keep trending in the right direction.
The Sixers’ offense has steadily crept into the top five on the season, where they only rank behind Kings, Nuggets, Jazz (wow), and Celtics. We’ve seen the Sixers’ defense steadily decrease in the past few weeks, but they still remain seventh-best in that department. That’ll be the one area they need to keep in check during the home stretch of the regular season.
In regards to availability, the Sixers listed Embiid as questionable with foot soreness. This is the same status and reasoning they’ve listed during the past few games, so I would assume he plays. Orlando only has one player on their injury report; Chuma Okeke, who is recovering from knee surgery. He’s out.
The Sixers have a bit of an easier stretch over the next three games. They’ll face the Magic twice in a row, before traveling to San Antonio. Beyond that, the schedule gets a bit more challenging. Going 3-0 in these next few games would provide some room for error in their coming games. Let’s hope they keep the good vibes coming tonight.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: The Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic