Embiid and Maxey combine for 68 to pace Sixers in win over Magic: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (26-13) visited the Orlando Magic (22-19) on Friday. Philadelphia wanted to extend its winning streak to four games. Orlando wanted to rebound from Wednesday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey combined for 68 points to pace the Sixers in a 124-109 victory over the Magic.
Before we get to what I saw, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of De'Anthony Melton, who is receiving treatment for a stress response to lumbar spine soreness.
Robert Covington has left knee inflammation and was not available. Jaden Springer missed the game with right ankle tendinitis. Mo Bamba has right knee inflammation and was out.
Kenny Lofton Jr. is on a two-way G League assignment with the Delaware Blue Coats and was not available.
Nick Nurse started Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nico Batum, Tobias Harris, and Embiid.
The Magic were without the services of Franz Wagner, who has a sprained right ankle.
Gary Harris missed the game with a strained right calf.
Jamahl Mosley started Jalen Suggs, Chuma Okeke, Caleb Houstan, Paolo Banchero, and Goga Bitadze.
- With all due respect to everyone else on the roster, almost all of the good from the first half can be reduced to an iconic Doug Collins line - "get the ball to [Joel] and get the f--k out the way".
After going on an 82-point rampage over the span of 30 hours in a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back, Embiid was still feeling the hot hand. He put a hurting on the Magic in every way in the first half - deep catches over fronting and backing defenders for shots at the rim, jab-step jumpers, jumpers off the dribble, everything. He even got creative when tasked with making something happen after picking up his dribble, tossing the ball off the backboard and attacking the rim for the dunk to complete an alley-oop to himself.
Teams have gotten to the point where they know only divine intervention is going to frustrate Embiid on any given night. His jumper has taken yet another leap this season, which is terrifying for opponents because he can already shoot over basically anyone in his way.
28 points on 14 shots and seven free throws in less than 19 first-half minutes. Besides the miserable "prove it in the playoffs", what more can you say?
- Not quite as potent as Embiid's first half, but not a bad first 22 minutes for Maxey, either. There was one extremely encouraging sight that I think draws on Maxey's mentality. The Sixers got the offensive rebound on one of his missed threes, and the ball went right back to Maxey with a Magic defender fairly close by. Rather than pull the ball back and reset the possession, Maxey pulled the trigger on another three and drilled it.
It was the type of aggressive shot-hunting that you want out of a player who genuinely believes in his own shot. A less confident player might've hesitated or not taken the shot at all. Maxey portrayed someone who was downright angry that the last one didn't go down and wanted to correct the misfire immediately. That is the exact mentality you need out of the guy serving as Embiid's running mate.
- Another pretty poor night for the Sixers' defense (see below), but Oubre deserves some recognition for his efforts in the third quarter. He chewed up space when Banchero picked up his dribble inside, swatting his shot away at a time when Philadelphia needed to halt Orlando's momentum. Oubre took an economic route around a screen, making himself narrower as he followed a blue jersey over the pick to try to blow up the action.
- Whereas in years past the reserves simply didn't have the skills to consistently produce, this group's juice depends on how many mismatches they can find in the opposition's lineup. But, the key then becomes having a coach who is methodical enough to get the desired defensive player on whichever Sixer at their preferred spot. That's where Nurse has used some of his best tricks, and it's why the likes of Marcus Morris Sr. are actually contributing to this team after being cast to the bench in perpetuity with the Clippers.
Philadelphia turned the lights out on the Magic with its lineup to start the fourth quarter, and they did it by feasting on size advantages. Morris, in particular, was a beneficiary. Patrick Beverley found him twice early in the quarter, pump-faking and stepping in for a long two by the baseline and then getting an elbow touch with a size advantage for another two.
- Nice milestone moments for Ricky Council IV and Terq Smith, who each scored their first NBA points late in the fourth quarter. Welcome to the league, young fellas.
- There's never a possession on which you don't want Embiid taking a shot, but he clearly forced some jumpers in the third quarter. Orlando bothered him a little bit by putting smaller defenders who could dig under his arms on Embiid, but he largely just took shots that were out of rhythm or rushed. That stretch of decision-making helped Orlando get back into a game that appeared headed for a blowout.
- The Sixers are extraordinarily fortunate to have a player who can wipe away all their shortcomings by bending the game to his will every single night. But, that doesn't mean that they should use that margin of error, and definitely not as often as they do. The Magic out-worked them and did most of the little things - like attacking the glass - at a much higher level than the Sixers did. But, none of it mattered because Embiid played to his average for three quarters and then his teammates shut things down in winning time. That's a luxury built on bad habits, and it won't work when the games really start to matter in the spring and summer.
The Sixers (27-13) will visit the Charlotte Hornets (8-30) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBC Sports Philadelphia.