The Philadelphia 76ers (10-10) hosted the Orlando Magic (4-17) on Monday night. Philadelphia was looking to snap a two-game losing streak. Orlando wanted to put an end to a six-game losing streak of their own. This time, it was the Sixers who hung on for an ugly victory, 101-96.

Before we get to what I saw, some notes.

Contextual Notes

The Magic were without the services of the following:

  • Cole Anthony (sprained right ankle)
  • Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle injury recovery; health and safety protocol)
  • Markelle Fultz (recovery from torn left ACL)
  • Jonathan Isaac (recovery from torn left ACL)
  • E’Twaun Moore (sprained left knee)

Jamahl Mosley started Jalen Suggs, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr, and Mo Bamba. 

The Sixers were without Ben Simmons, who is still not mentally ready to play. 

Jaden Springer, along with Two-Way signees Aaron Henry and Grant Riller, were on G-League assignments with the Blue Coats.

Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid.

Monday’s affair marked just the seventh game this season in which the opening night starting lineup was available to play together.

First Quarter

Tobias Harris had no problems getting going early on. He stroked a three off the catch and beat Mo Bamba to the basket for a dunk after the young big man bit his fake a touch too heavily. Harris took care of business, but he did it against the league’s second-worst defense. Orlando is young and athletic, so their shortcomings are largely based in yet-to-be-developed defensive intelligence and inexperience. 

Harris remains overly-criticized and under-rated, even if he’s had a couple bad outings in a row. He’s a typically-efficient 20-plus points and 7-plus rebounds guy. But if he wants to command the respect of All-Star status — which he could if the Sixers are a surprising positive in the East come selection time — Harris needs those strong quarters to carry over to better-ranked defenses. The Wolves’ defense was quite impressive on Saturday, and the veteran forward was essentially unheard from for more than half the game.

Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid leaned heavily into the side pick-and-roll game in the first quarter. While it should theoretically be a murderous tandem, they couldn’t get much traction off of those actions in their first stretch together. Maxey kept using the screen, but not progressing the pay beyond that. So, Embiid kept re-screening for him to get something else going. The end result was essentially just dribbling the air out of the ball and alternating spots on those possessions.

I think Embiid is part of the reason for that inability to progress the play. He always pops out to the perimeter instead of diving to the rim. And perhaps Maxey isn’t seeing the look that he feels comfortable acting upon. Embiid has never been much of a roller, and that’s why the offense stagnates sometimes when he’s not on one of his heaters.

If he always pops, he’s not leveraging his size and physicality. Rivers and company have raved about Embiid’s conditioning since the start of the new management regime. Well, it’s time he starts improving as a screener and mix the occasional authoritative roll into his repertoire. He did it in the second half of the Minnesota game, and it yielded him an easy layup.

Second Quarter

It’s time for the point Korkmaz experiment to come to an end. I know, it’s sad. While it was cute for a couple weeks when the behind-the-back passes and threaded needles worked, Korkmaz’s vision as an initiator has disappeared. 

Even when he brings the ball up and peels off of a high pick-and-roll, he’s side-fading into pull-up triples and missing them. He’s been in a heavy slump since the Knicks game that snapped the Sixers’ win streak. Over the past few weeks, he’s been firing medicine balls out of a cannon. The touch simply hasn’t recovered. If his passes are getting deflected into run-outs, and his shots aren’t falling, what is he really giving Philadelphia? Cardio and good vibes, cardio and good vibes.

There were several moments in the second quarter in which the Sixers looked poised to pin the Magic down once and for all. But, they let up on the defensive side of the floor. Orlando deserves credit for converting some extremely difficult layups, but the Sixers did nothing to limit dribble penetration. That effort hurt the Sixers on the perimeter, too. Orlando was getting their fair share of open threes from the corners and cashed in on a handful of them as the Sixers sprinted back to the shooter after lurking too far away in help. 

What could’ve been a 25-point lead at halftime was only 11 points. The Sixers’ defense shouldn’t be expected to be anything great without Ben Simmons or the bodies replacing him. But, one would think that they were due for more engagement on that end following a winnable loss against the Wolves on Saturday. As their lead expanded to 16 points, the Sixers certainly showed they had the firepower to put Orlando away early. They just didn’t stay focused long enough to do so.

Third Quarter

The Magic weren’t done, either. They came out of halftime with a zone defense for which the Sixers were completely unprepared. They had Harris operating at the pocket by the free throw line, which is where Embiid should’ve been. Instead, Embiid was gravitating out towards the perimeter. 

Beyond that, the players on the court were unsure of how to react within a zone. Passes were lazy and indecisive. The team’s shooters were not letting it fly with confidence. Such characteristics are unacceptable from players and coaching staff, alike. The lack of preparation is on the coaching staff. There needs to be a more intuitive response from the players than just forcing passes without direction. 

The players absolutely need to lock in and take it upon themselves to react appropriately, too. There were some awful passes that generated run-outs for Orlando. And if it wasn’t run-outs in transition, it was timid shot selection. The disjointed nature of the offense, and sloppy live-ball turnovers, invited Orlando right back into the game. It was a stink fest, and the featured odors were lack of preparation and effort. That’s concerning when you consider the context of Philly’s loss to Minnesota.

Fourth Quarter

The Sixers felt the wrath of Mo Bamba throughout the game. The namesake of the Sheck Wes hit was volleyball-spiking their frail attempts around the rim into foreign countries all night long. Might I suggest a shot fake from time to time?

Andre Drummond was critical in the Sixers re-establishing control in this game. He ripped down a handful of offensive rebounds, actually made shots at the rim, and anchored some defensive stops, too. But he made made one pass under duress that went directly to one of Orlando’s magicians. Not sure whether he got the jersey color matchup confused or was doing his best Carson Wentz impression. But as we’ve come to learn, you’re just not likely to have multiple sequences of greatness out of the veteran backup big.

The Sixers found themselves in hot water once again late in the fourth quarter. You guessed it — Orlando went zone, and Philly’s collective back tightened up. But as sometimes happens in ugly games, the game was won at the free throw line. And the Sixers did what they had to do to add one to the W-column.

The Sixers (11-10) will visit the Boston Celtics (11-10) on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 PM EST. You can catch the action on NBA TV.