Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 94

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Instant Replay: Magic 105, Sixers 94

BOX SCORE

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.

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

Gregg Popovich on Sixers: 'One of my joys in life to watch them win'

When Brett Brown agreed to become the Sixers' head coach, he knew he was embarking upon a unique challenge with a franchise that planned to be as methodical as possible in its rebuild. 

One of the results was a career record for Brown of 47-199 entering this season, a record so lopsidedly poor that Brown may never break the .500 mark.

But the Sixers are finally showing real progress, with a star in Joel Embiid and young players who are turning out to be useful pieces. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine, and there's no one happier to see that than Brown's former boss and mentor, Gregg Popovich.

"It's one of my joys in life to watch them win basketball games because if there's any team that deserves it, it's those guys," Popovich told ESPN.

Brown and the Sixers aren't out of the woods yet. At 14-26, they're still closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but the entire vibe around the team has changed. 

"They've had it really tough for all the obvious reasons," said Popovich, who has been the Spurs' head coach since 1996 and worked with Brown from 2002-13.

"There's nobody in our business that is more positive, and more day-to-day upbeat and ready to teach and love than Brett Brown. He's a unique, unique guy."

Sixers-Trail Blazers 5 things: Streaking Sixers meet tough stretch

Sixers-Trail Blazers 5 things: Streaking Sixers meet tough stretch

Sixers vs. Trail Blazers
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

Coming off of an impressive win over the Raptors Wednesday, the Sixers (14-26) welcome the Trail Blazers (18-26) to the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night for the first game of a back-to-back. 

Here’s what to watch for the matchup:

1.  Streaking Sixers
What a new year it’s been for the Sixers.

Winning seven of their last nine games has Joel Embiid thinking playoffs. The Sixers are 5½ games out of the eighth seed in the East, and should get even better if (or when) Ben Simmons makes his debut.

With five teams ahead of them, it seems unlikely the Sixers get in, but why not enjoy the streak while it lasts and give Embiid and the youngsters a taste of their first success in the NBA?

2. Heating up
Speaking of enjoying the streak while it lasts, the schedule gets tougher from here on out.

With five sets of back-to-backs over the next two weeks, the team will be forced to play at least five games without Embiid. And the difference with "The Process" on the floor and off is staggering. The Sixers are 12-17 with Embiid, but a putrid 2-9 without the rookie sensation. Much of that can be attributed to Embiid’s stellar defense and Jahlil Okafor’s um, less than stellar, whatever he calls what he does on the defensive end.

3. Super Dario
Dario Saric’s improved play has been another catalyst for the hot streak. Saric has elevated his game during the 7-2 run, raising his numbers in points and rebounds, giving the Sixers a solid second unit. In fact, Saric is second (behind Embiid) among rookies in points (9.7) and rebounds (5.9) per game. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” head coach Brett Brown said after Wednesday’s win.

4. Another one
After slowing the Raptors' All-Star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry on Wednesday, the Sixers face another dynamic backcourt in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The duo averages a combined 49.5 points per game, nearly half (46 percent) of the Blazers' total points per game.

Luckily for the Sixers, the Blazers are an abysmal 7-17 on the road this year, including 5-10 vs. the Eastern Conference. 

5. This and that
• The Blazers have given up an average of 114 points over their three-game losing streak. The Sixers have scored 114 or more points in five of their 30 games this season. 

• The Sixers are 3-4 in the first game of back-to-backs and 1-6 in the second leg. The Sixers face the Hawks Saturday.

• After signing a four-year, $70 million contract with the Blazers in the offseason, former Sixer Evan Turner is averaging 9.4 points, 3.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, all down from his four-year average while with the Sixers. 

• Nearly every Sixer received a player vote for the All-Star Game: Embiid (43), Sergio Rodriguez (8), T.J. McConnell (4), Okafor (4), Simmons (3), Jerryd Bayless (2), Robert Covington (2), Nerlens Noel (2), Gerald Henderson (1), Ersan Ilyasova (1), Richaun Holmes (1), Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot (1), Saric (1).