Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 94

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Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 94

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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.

Stat-egic
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.

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”