Takeaways From Sixers’ drubbing of Magic
In a game that was never close, the Sixers had their way against the Magic in a 116-92 drubbing Thursday night.
What makes the win more impressive is it came against the last undefeated team in the NBA, on the road, and in a place that’s become a house of horrors over the years.
Here are a few takeaways from the dominant performance.
What a difference shooting can make
Think back to this time last year. After an impressive win over the Bucks on Christmas Day, the Sixers lost four straight games, including an embarrassing effort in Indiana on New Year’s Eve where Josh Richardson mentioned issues with accountability.
This New Year’s Eve was just slightly different for the Sixers. Sure, a new coach in Doc Rivers and perhaps addressing the accountability issues have helped, but what we saw in Orlando Thursday is what Daryl Morey had in mind when he constructed this roster.
After a few rough shooting outings to start the season, the Sixers came alive from outside against the Magic. The team went 15 of 33 (45.5 percent) from three. Beyond just shots going in the basket, it helps the rest of the Sixers’ offense immensely.
Ben Simmons, who hit a three of his own from the corner, “completely controlled the game,” according to Rivers. Simmons was one of the best players in the NBA last season at creating threes for others. Now, take Al Horford and Richardson out and insert Seth Curry and Danny Green – who has struggled early -- into the lineup. On Thursday night, the results were excellent. Simmons nearly put up a triple-double (9 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) in just 25 minutes.
While this level of shooting isn’t sustainable on a nightly basis, you can see Morey’s vision and how dangerous this team could be.
The Embiid-Curry two-man game
Joel Embiid is off to easily the most efficient start of his NBA career, shooting 52.3/38.5/82.5 – all marks that would represent career highs. He’s averaging 2.3 turnovers a game, which would be by far the lowest of his career. It’s just four games in, but Embiid is playing arguably the best and smartest basketball of his career.
A part of that is his partnership with Curry. Curry is off to a tremendous start, averaging 15.2 points and shooting a blistering 51.9 percent from three. It’s an interesting dynamic with Curry. In some ways, he’s helping make up for the loss of JJ Redick that the offense never seemed to recover from last season.
While Redick’s off-ball movement is elite, Curry is a much better ball handler. You see that in his ability to attack closeouts and play in the pick-and-roll with Embiid and Simmons. Rivers mentioned that Curry would take on a larger ball-handling role than he had in Dallas. It’s added a new wrinkle to the offense, and Curry is averaging 3.6 assists per game – his career-high is 2.7 -- to go with his torrid shooting numbers.
Some of those shooting numbers aren’t sustainable, but as Embiid and Curry continue to develop chemistry and learn each other on the floor, it could lead to both players having career years.
It still starts with defense
While the Sixers shooting the lights out was a large factor in the victory, they also smothered the Magic. Orlando scored just 40 points in the first half and failed to reach 100 for the game. It was easily the worst scoring output for the Magic this season, which came into the game averaging over 120 points a night through four games.
After a dreadful defensive effort without Embiid in Cleveland, the Sixers have held their last two opponents under 100. Through five games, the Sixers are first in the NBA in opponent field-goal percentage and defensive rating. They’re third in points allowed and are the best defensive rebounding team in the league.
The game against the Cavs aside, the Sixers’ strategy under Rivers seems to be working. While Brett Brown made it a priority to take away threes – something the Sixers did very well under him – Rivers’ focus is more about protecting the paint. So far, the Sixers are tied for fourth in the league in points in the paint allowed. They’re first in the NBA in blocks and have the lowest opponent two-point percentage.
While the duo of Embiid and Simmons leads the way, Tobias Harris has looked sharp on that end. It’s been a point of emphasis for Harris since he arrived in Philadelphia and the work appears to be paying off. The last two games were a couple of the best two-way efforts we’ve seen from Harris as a Sixer.