The Sixers are coming into Friday’s game with an extra day’s rest and one seriously satisfying win under their belts. Led by a 41-point masterclass from Joel Embiid, 25 points and nine assists from Tyrese Maxey, an efficient 24 points from Tobias Harris, and more strong two-way performances by Nicolas Batum and Patrick Beverley, the Sixers beat the Nuggets 126-121. On the second night of a back-to-back, no less.
Next up, as the Sixers look to extend their win streak to four, they’re heading to Orlando to take on the Magic.
The Magic have put together a decent season overall, sitting at the bottom of the playoff picture at 8th in the East with a 22-19 record. But after starting the season on an impressive 16-7 run with the league’s third-best defense in that span, they’ve dropped off. They’re now only 6-12 since Dec. 15, ranking 27th in offense and 12th in defense in this stretch.
Injuries haven’t helped. For instance, Wendell Carter Jr. has missed most of the season due to a broken left hand and right knee tendinitis. Since returning to his usual spot in the starting lineup on Dec. 20 for five games, he’s since been in and out of and moved to the bench. Markelle Fultz, who started 60 games in 2022-23 and easily had the best year of his career, has dealt with left knee tendonitis and only played in nine games this season. The super talented and versatile forward Franz Wagner has missed the last seven games with an ankle injury. Nevertheless, the Magic and their stout defense have declined.
Meanwhile, the Sixers’ bench will continue to be a bit shorthanded on Friday. De’Anthony Melton (back), Robert Covington (knee) and Mo Bamba (knee) remain out.
There are still some good matchups to follow in this one, though.
Harris has really stepped up over the last few games, improving his play at both ends of the floor and supplying spells of more assertive, efficient offense when the Sixers have needed it. With two 30+ point games and 24 on 8-of-10 shooting against the Nuggets in his last four outings, Harris is in fine form and defending well, too. He guarded Domantas Sabonis well, and held up about as well as you could hope for when Nick Nurse mixed up matchups to let Embiid roam and used Harris on Nikola Jokic at times.
Tobias Harris was brilliant against the Kings.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) January 13, 2024
Lots of strong drives, attacked mismatches well, and had a quicker trigger from 3. He stepped up on defense too -- guarded Sabonis well in the post with good physicality and hands. pic.twitter.com/PTuG8wigiA
Harris and others like Batum will have another tricky (albeit much easier than Jokic) assignment covering the 6-foot-10 Paolo Banchero. The second-year forward is only getting better. He’s putting up 22.9 points, seven rebounds and 4.9 assists per game this season, while improving his three-point stroke to 35.2 percent. With his size, strength, quickness, solid handle, finishing and improving shooting off the bounce, he’s a tough physical matchup.
It’ll be fun to follow how Maxey’s electric scoring continues, and how Beverley keeps performing as they go against the Magic’s mix of guards. The 6-foot-6 Chuma Okeke has moved into the starting lineup at the 2 over the last two weeks (which bodes well as the Sixers continue to utilize more size with Kelly Oubre Jr. starting in Melton’s place) alongside Jalen Suggs. Rookie Anthony Black has moved to the bench.
Suggs is a fantastic defender with his motor, speed, agility, and good size at 6-foot-5. Watching how he handles Maxey will be a fun matchup to follow.
Meanwhile, Embiid has scored 41 points in each of the last two games and no one can do anything to contain him right now. You really just have to wish his defenders luck as they try to avoid fouling and hope Embiid has an off night from his mid-range hot-spots. He’ll certainly have some good matchups to attack on Friday, too. Goga Bitadze has moved to Orlando’s starting lineup while Carter Jr. comes off the bench.
Harris neatly summed up the Sixers’ approach after Tuesday’s win against the Nuggets.
"Even if it’s a back-to-back, the energy was there,” he said. “The atmosphere in the arena was there. The matchup between [Embiid] and [Nikola] Jokic obviously is prime time. The whole group understood what our goal was. Nonetheless, of all those things that go into it is to win and see where we match up versus the reigning champs. For us, we wanted to come out and play our best type of basketball."
Playing their best type of basketball is just what the Sixers did to beat Denver. Now, if they can keep the momentum going and benefit from an extra day of rest, they should have a good chance to get a healthy win streak building again and pick up a victory against Orlando.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 pm EST
Where: Kia Center, Orlando, FL
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic