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.

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

Instant Replay: Celtics 107, Sixers 106

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Rewind 24 hours.

The Sixers were walking off the court Friday night after a dismal blowout loss to the Magic that left Brett Brown reflecting on Saturday, “Here in Philadelphia, at home, that’s not good enough.”

The Sixers had lacked fire and grit, especially with Joel Embiid on the floor against a sub-.500 Magic team that had played the night before in Memphis. 

They had a day to turn it around. A playoff contending Celtics squad was coming to town and Embiid wasn’t available because of his back-to-back limitations. The shorthanded Sixers (see below) had a tall task ahead of them. 

The Sixers reacted by jumping out early and kept the Celtics at bay in the first half. Even when the Celtics cut their lead to three midway through the second quarter, the Sixers responded with an 8-0 burst to go up by a game-high 11 points. 

The Celtics exposed the Sixers' defensive void in the paint without Embiid in the third. With the Sixers up 65-58, Isaiah Thomas drew a foul against Jahlil Okafor. That play sparked a 9-0 Celtics run over the next two minutes, in which Thomas scored six of those points (including four at the line). The Celtics took back the lead during that stretch and forced the Sixers to play catchup.

The Sixers cut the Celtics lead to one in the fourth with a three from Dario Saric, who played one of his most aggressive games of his short NBA career. After the Celtics jumped back up by seven, the Sixers kept fighting and tied the game 100 apiece. The Celtics were able to pull away and finished with a one-point win, 107-106, after Ersan Ilyasova drained a three at the buzzer. 

Inside the stats
Thomas exploded for 37 points (11 for 19 from the field, 2 for 3 from three, 13 for 15 from the line), four rebounds, and seven assists.

Saric recorded a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, both tying career-highs. 

Ersan Ilyasova dropped 18 points, including three treys, and six rebounds.

Okafor and Sergio Rodriguez scored 15 apiece, with Rodriguez adding eight assists. 

Avery Bradley dropped 20 points and nine rebounds. 

Stauskas starts in place of Covington
Brown turned to shooting guard Nik Stauskas to slide over to the three spot in place of the injured Robert Covington (see below). 

“Boston’s perimeter defense is as good as it is in the NBA,” Brown explained. “I think you need to have more ball handlers, people who can make a play, on the perimeter … I feel that Nik has that ability to put it to the floor and disrupt that aggressive pressure that the Celtics backcourt can put on you.”

Broken ankles
Saric came up with the Sixers' highlight play of the game when he did this to Jonas Jerebko in the third quarter for an instant highlight reel moment. 

Always a student
Not playing, still learning. Embiid has been praised for being an eager student of the game. During warmups he sat courtside to watch film on a laptop even though he wasn’t suiting up. 

Injury updates
Joel Embiid is not playing in back-to-back games and sat out the back end of this home-home series for rest … Robert Covington sat out with a sprained left knee he suffered on Friday after colliding with T.J. McConnell chasing a ball out of bounds … Jerryd Bayless missed his fourth straight game with left wrist soreness. 

Up next
The Sixers host the Nuggets on Monday night.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.