Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 94


Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 94


ORLANDO -- With the Sixers missing their starting center, it was their former man in the middle that showed the franchise once again just what it’s been missing.

Ex-Sixers center Nikola Vucevic took advantage of Spencer Hawes missing a second straight game with left knee soreness while leading the Magic to a 105-94 win over the Sixers on Wednesday night. Vucevic had 21 points on 10 of 13 shooting to go with 16 rebounds and five assists in the victory.

The loss dropped the Sixers’ record to 6-10.

Thaddeus Young returned after missing three games because of personal reasons and looked like he never left. Young scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.

Tony Wroten missed a second straight game with back spasms.

Turning point
The Sixers kept cutting into a once double-digit deficit throughout the second half and even got it to two points at one moment.

After the lead was pushed back up to six, Victor Olapido made a three-pointer with three minutes to play that stretched the Magic’s lead to nine. The Magic were just 4 of 19 from long range on the night, but Oladipo’s three was a critical one.

Follow the leader
Vucevic started his career with the Sixers in 2011 when they selected the USC product 16th overall in the draft. Since being traded to the Magic in the Andrew Bynum deal, Vucevic’s career took off.

Last year, he averaged a double-double and the big man is doing the same again this season with an average of 14.8 points and 11.0 boards. Vucevic almost had those marks in the first half on Wednesday with 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds heading into intermission before finishing with 21 and 16, respectively.

Glen Davis had 19 points for the Magic, while Olapido and Aaron Afflalo finished with 18 each.

Evan Turner and Michael-Carter-Williams again proved to be reliable scorers with a short-handed roster.

Turner had a double-double with 17 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Carter-Williams had 23 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

The Sixers allowed the Magic to score 52 points in the paint compared to their own 36 from that area.

Take a bow
Young returned to the Sixers after missing the previous three games due to a death in his family. For the first time since the 2011-12 season, he came off the bench.

In 14 first-half minutes, Young scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds. His three-point play with 3.6 seconds to go in the half closed the Sixers’ once 15-point deficit to just five.

By game’s end, Young was 9 of 15 from the floor for his team-high 26 points.

What’s next?
The Sixers host Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Pelicans come to town with a 6-8 record. Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson combine to average 38.6 points. Holiday is averaging 14.0 points and 7.3 assists for his new team.

The Sixers were embarrassed by New Orleans on Nov. 16 when they suffered a 135-98 loss at the hands of the Pelicans.

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Ben Simmons is on track to return to the Sixers in January, Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday. 

Previous reports indicated that Simmons, who suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in the Sixers' final training camp scrimmage on Sept. 30, would be out three months. Friday's news jives with that, but this is the first time the Sixers have given a timetable.

"It's not doom and gloom," Brown said. "Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd (Bayless). Jahlil (Okafor) is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game."

With long-term ramifications in mind, there had been some speculation that Simmons' camp wanted him to sit all season. 

This is rather encouraging news and it means the Sixers may avoid watching another of their top picks miss his entire first year.

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."