Of all the bitter defeats the Sixers had this season, the one they suffered at the hands of the Magic in January was certainly one of them. You remember, of course--Sixers up three with a half-minute to go, Lou Williams splits a pair of free throws to make it four, Orlando's Jason Richardson squares up behind the three-point arc, Andre Iguodala goes cuticle-to-cuticle with his shooting hand, J-Rich gets the bucket, the foul call and the free-throw to tie the game up. In OT, the Magic take a one-point lead thanks in part to a more legit four-point play from JJ Redick, Iguodala's potential game-winning banker lips out, and the Sixers lose what could would should have been their best victory of the season.
Well, break out your best Mel Gibson impersonations, because there's definite payback in the air tonight as the old new-look Magic come to Philadelphia for a piece of the once-again surging 76ers.
I'll always maintain that the Sixers were the better team the last time they faced the Magic--and to my rare credit, the records of the two teams since have borne this out somewhat. Philly has gone 7-3 since dropping the heartbreaker, with wins against four likely playoff teams, while Orlando has gone just 6-5, with all their wins coming against sub-.500 squads. Despite a solid (though far from easy) win last night against the Clippers, the Magic have lagged greatly in recent weeks, largely due to the absence of starting power forward Brandon Bass, the team's only real post threat outside of beast center Dwight Howard, and the struggles of supposed difference-maker Gilbert Arenas, averaging just 8.4 ppg on horrendous 35% shooting.
And of course, the Sixers have rebounded brilliantly from their rough loss in New York, responding by posting their biggest win of the year (in size if not in stature) in Atlanta. With the team's confidence at an all-time high (""Every night we feel like we can win every ballgame," said Elton Brand recently. "It wasn't like that earlier in the season") they get to go back home to Wells Fargo, where they're 16-8 for the season. A quote posted by the Sixers twitter feed even has Magic coach Stan Van Gundy saying that the Sixers are playing as well as anyone besides the Heat in the East right now. Not sure if I'd go that far, but the fact that it's even suggestible is unbelievable for a team that started the year 3-13.
7:00 tip from the WFC. It's still going to be a tough matchup--any time you're going against Dwight Howard with Spencer Hawes and Tony Battie as your primary centers, you're in for a long-ass night--but for the first time since the two teams met in the playoffs two years ago, I feel like the Sixers have a real chance against the Magic tonight. Here's hoping they don't prove me horribly wrong.