Although it was not an easy night at the office, the Sixers only needed 48 minutes of basketball on Monday night.
They followed a double loss in overtime against the Timberwolves on Saturday with a 101-196 win over the lowly Magic at Wells Fargo Center.
Seth Curry scored a team-high 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting. Joel Embiid had 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.
Orlando rookie Franz Wagner scored 27 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Sixers begin a four-game road trip against the Celtics on Wednesday. Here are observations of their tight win over the Magic:
Starters back together
Embiid’s legs were not completely shot after he played 45 minutes into his first game back from COVID-19 on Saturday.
He scored the first basket of the game on a pull-up jumper and also committed an early foul on Wendell Carter Jr. with a rip through move.
Embiid’s passing was positive early in the game. He was intentional when he teamed up in doubles, finding Tobias Harris (17 points, nine rebounds) on a high-low and playing effective two-man games with both Curry and Tyrese Maxey (nine points on 2-for-12 shooting, nine assists, eight rebounds).
Touch shooting was a problem for the big man, however, as he started 2 to 10 from the floor.
Danny Green returned to the Sixers’ starting lineup and replaced Matisse Thybulle. Head coach Doc Rivers said before the game that he expects Green to have at least another week or two minutes as the veteran returns from a left hamstring injury. The conversation about whether Green or Thybulle makes more sense as a starter is interesting, but it’s not particularly relevant until Green’s Unlimited. For now, the Sixers will be happy to have everyone available in the opening night rotation.
Rivers clearly liked the idea of getting his typical starters back to playing together, using those five players for the first nine minutes and ten seconds before moving on to an all-bench lineup. The Sixers took a 27-14 lead with their first unit.
Are there zone breakers?
Orlando turned on zone defense at the start of the second period. The Sixers’ first possession against it was poor as Thybulle dribbled to the center and then flipped the ball in an attempted dump-off to Andre Drummond.
Rivers was frustrated on the sidelines, seemingly dissatisfied with the lack of movement. However, Georges Niang and Thybulle each hit open three-pointers against the zone. There were also a few plays where Drummond was able to put in a good ball screen and get a Sixers guard to penetrate a seam.
The optimistic view of the Sixers is that they are equipped to handle the zone. Niang and Furkan Korkmaz will fire catch-and-shoot threes (and generally make them at a decent rate). Curry and Green fall under the same category on the first unit. Drummond is an elite offensive rebounder and enjoys throwing the ball to teammates from the high post. His six offensive boards in 18 minutes made all the difference.
Still, zones sometimes cause stumbling blocks when teams pass by, happen to miss wide open shots, or just don’t attack with confidence. The Sixers checked those boxes Monday.
The team’s starters faced the Magic’s zone to start the second half, missing their first three field goals, including an Embiid fadeaway attempt late in the shot clock.
Again, Rivers was understandably unhappy with his team’s execution. “Move the ball, come on!” he yelled at Maxey after the 21-year-old accepted an Embiid screen and stepped into a wing three without any passes on the ball. Orlando took a 64-62 lead over a Jalen Suggs fast-break dunk with 6:20 in the third, clearing a whopping 16-point deficit and capping the crowd.
The zone resurfaced in the closing minutes and the Sixers still couldn’t crack it decisively and played basketball cautiously across the board. They should watch this tape.
“We’ve had no problem with the zone overalls tonight (except),” Rivers said. “It’s hard to beat a zone when there’s no movement, there are no downhill attacks. It was the slowest zone attack — maybe ever.
“We ended up coming out of two timeouts and running our zone attack and scoring both times because there was pace. But the ball just stuck tonight; it didn’t move. We didn’t get into the paint enough. I thought Shake (Milton) had a big stretch because he kept coming up in the paint. This allowed Andre to reach the glass. But not much else.”
Curry key in Sixers beeping past
Curry and Harris combined for 27 points in the first half on 12-for-15 shooting.
While the Sixers’ attack failed, Curry provided a timely shot. He sunk a controversial three to tie the game at 68-all and another triple to give the Sixers a 76-74 lead.
His corner three to extend the Sixers’ lead to 94-89 sent home fans a sigh of relief.
Those jumpers weren’t footnotes in a blowout due to the Sixers’ defensive blunders after a strong start. The team also made several poor turnovers leading to an easy Magic transition foul in the third period. Orlando was feisty and deserves credit for making the most of his window on the game, but the Sixers hadn’t needed anything special to win.
“Just playing bad basketball,” Curry said. “It’s pretty easy. A lot of bad moves in attack and defense for the whole team. We have to think for 48 minutes how we can get better. Really, the last two games we haven’t played good basketball.”
A team that dropped to 4-18 Monday forced the Sixers to break a sweat. However, they will take the win and go back to over .500 on 11-10. It’s a lot better than the alternative that leads to another road trip.
“It was a win,” Rivers said. “Uninspired. I thought we played pretty well for the first six minutes with a lot of energy. And after that I just didn’t think we played that well.
“I thought Drum fundamentally changed the game with his attacking rebounds and his effort. But other than that… I’ll take every win. I’d rather win these than lose them, so you grab them and keep pushing.”