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.

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

The Sixers officially get back to work Wednesday night in their regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (see game notes).

Before tip-off, Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, producer/reporter Matt Haughton and producer/reporter Paul Hudrick run the Give and Go to break down some burning questions surrounding the team.

What is the one stat that will most define the Sixers' season?

Turnovers: The Sixers want to build a defensive identity and understandably so — they ranked last in the league in rebounds with a minus-518 differential and were outscored by a last-placed 10.2 points per game. That being said, I am looking at turnovers this season. Last season, they were prone to throwing away points with errors. They ranked 29th (second to the Suns) with 16.6 turnovers per game. The team is down two ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Ben Simmons (both injured), which heightens the challenge. In order for the Sixers to get into any type of rhythm and build an offensive flow, they have to actually maintain possession.

It's got to be defense. Brett Brown is banking on Joel Embiid being the centerpiece to the team's defense, and he better be for the head coach's sake. Embiid also better get some help from the guys around him on that end of the floor or it will be another year-long parade of bad rotations, easy buckets at the rim and wide-open jumpers. In Brown's three years as Sixers head coach, the team has ranked 29th, 20th and 30th in opponents' points per game. That has to change if the Sixers want to take the next step in their rebuild.

With an abundance of big men and Simmons eventually taking the court as the team's main facilitator, the Sixers need players that can shoot. Last season, they took the eighth-most three-point attempts in the NBA while finishing 24th in three-point percentage. That second number has to go up if the Sixers ever want to create floor space.

Who will be the Sixers' MVP?

Embiid: The towering 7-foot-2 presence is going to be the dominating force on both ends. Brown intends for Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense and the offense to go through Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, whose role is restricted (knee). Embiid has shown in a small sampling of preseason games he is capable of leading the team on all sides of the floor.

Of course the answer is Embiid, but let's go another route and say Brown. The coach got an extension last season and also received a boost in roster talent. Now he just has to figure out how the pieces fit together. That didn't go so well with Okafor and Nerlens Noel a season ago, but playing those two together was essentially the only intriguing thing about the Sixers in 2015-16, which is why Brown stuck with the pairing. With better players to mix and match this time around, I believe Brown will figure out some solid options to have the squad in better position to compete on a nightly basis.

The easy pick is Embiid, but I'm going a little outside the box with Dario Saric. The 22-year-old Croatian showed off the versatility of his game during the preseason. He's an old school player that excels in the team game. He's what's often referred to as a "glue guy." He has skill, but the skills he lacks he makes up for with grit and basketball savvy.

What is your season projection for the Sixers?

This season was supposed to be a bridge year, the start of rebuilding. That will be delayed until the team is healthy with key players like Simmons, Okafor and Noel back at 100 percent. In the meantime, the Sixers' outlook is better than last season’s 10-win total but less than earlier projections with Simmons in the lineup. Because of injuries, I am shifting their win projection to 19.

The injury bug, starting with No. 1 overall pick Simmons, has certainly put a damper on the Sixers' projected win total. Las Vegas odds books originally set the mark at 27½, which seemed like a long shot even with a full roster. I say they show strides but fall just shy of doubling last season's win total and finish with 19.

This really depends on the return of Simmons. Simmons will make this team so much better on both ends of the floor. Bayless' absence early will hurt this team as well. And don't forget about all the minutes restrictions. They're going to struggle early on, but if Simmons returns in January, I think this team can double its win total from last season and win 20 games.

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Sixers-Thunder 5 things: Season opener is here, let the fun begin

Finally, basketball is back.

The Sixers will look to put their miserable 2015-16 season behind them when they get the 2016-17 campaign underway with Wednesday's season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Wells Fargo Center (8 p.m./CSN, Pregame Live at 7).

It should be a fun ride. Let's take a look at the season-opening matchup:

1. Long time coming
If you thought you had a long wait for Wednesday's opener, just think how Joel Embiid and Dario Saric feel.

For Embiid, it will be especially gratifying to take the court for a regular-season game. After being selected No. 3 overall by the Sixers in 2014, the center has been forced to sit out two straight seasons because of a pair of surgeries on his troublesome right foot and endured countless hours of rehab.

Now healthy and fresh off averaging 11.4 points and 6.0 rebounds in 14.7 minutes during the preseason, Embiid is ready for his first meaningful game action in 970 days.

"I can't wait (for Wednesday's game)," Embiid said, per the Inquirer. "That's going to be my first official NBA game. I just went through the preseason. I thought I got better game by game. I'm looking to finally get that first game."

As for Saric, he spent the past two years playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey after being the 12th overall selection in 2014 and traded to the Sixers. The Croatian, who averaged 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21.1 minutes during the preseason, passed on an opportunity to potentially earn more money by joining the Sixers a year early.

Both Embiid and Saric have shown their committment to "Trust the Process" from the start, and now the rookies will finally get to prove their worth on the court for the Sixers.

2. Don't forget there is a D in Philadelphia
With Embiid, Saric, Jahlil Okafor, (maybe) Ben Simmons and some added outside shooting, offense shouldn't be an issue for the Sixers this season. However, the other end of floor remains a work in progress.

Head coach Brett Brown stressed Embiid's need to be the Sixers' anchor on defense throughout the preseason.

“He needs to be the crown jewel, the centerpiece to our defense,” Brown said of Embiid.

That was hard to do with the big man averaging just 14.7 minutes a game during the preseason. With Nerlens Noel sidelined because of knee surgery and a host of new faces trying to find chemistry together, it was more of the same defensive issues as the Sixers allowed 107.1 points per game during exhibition play.

Now, we get it, it's only preseason and a lot of the problems on defense have something to do with the roster's lack of talent in recent years. But it's still a continuing trend for the Sixers under Brown. In his three seasons at the helm, the Sixers have allowed an average of 107.6, 101 and 109.9 points per game.

Sure, Embiid can be the centerpiece on defense, but he can't be the only piece.

3. Watch out for Westbrook
Speaking of defense ... it will be tested right from the start by one of the NBA's best offensive players in OKC point guard Russell Westbrook.

With Kevin Durant's bitter departure to the Golden State Warriors, the Sixers and the rest of the league can expect a supremely focused Westbrook.

Just how focused? In 61 career games without Durant, Westbrook has averaged 28.0 points, 8.4 assists and 7.1 rebounds.

Those are MVP-type numbers. And you better believe Westbrook is out to prove he's capable of pulling in that hardware and much more without his former superstar teammate.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (ankle) is expected to play in the opener. Simmons (foot), Noel (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Alex Abrines (hip) is expected to play for the Thunder.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 14 straight matchups to the Thunder.

• Westbrook, who had triple-doubles in both games against the Sixers last season, has averaged 22.0 points, 9.4 assists and 7.9 rebounds against the team throughout his career.

• Brown is 1-2 in season openers as Sixers head coach.

• Nik Stauskas scored a career-high 23 points in the March 18 meeting between the two teams last season.

• The Thunder grabbed 65 and 68 rebounds in the two games against the Sixers a season ago.