The Sixers, mired in a five-game losing streak that has seen their stock plummet within the Eastern Conference standings, take on an Orlando team playing through a five-game losing streak of its own. Sadly, the Sixers would be in great playoff position with any sort of decent play lately as the Bucks have also been floundering, losing 9 of their last 11 games. Instead of taking advantage, Philadelphia has seen its playoff odds drop to single digits, much to the benefit of the Toronto Raptors. Toronto has gone 7-3 since acquiring Rudy Gay in the biggest trade of the 2012-13 season and pulled even with Philadelphia for 9th place, 4 games back of Milwaukee for the final playoff spot. If the Sixers drop tonight’s contest to the slumping Magic, any lingering chance of a playoff appearance will disappear.
The Sixers won the teams’ first contest earlier this month, 78-61, thanks to one of Spencer Hawes’ finest games of the season (21 points and 14 rebounds) and abysmal shooting by Orlando (27-80, 33.8% from the field, and 1-12, 8.3% from behind the arc). That game was part of a stretch for the Magic that has seen them lose 17 of its last 18 games as the team has already turned its eye to next season. Last week, the team traded away J.J. Redick, its second most productive player in terms of win shares, in exchange for a couple young pieces in Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb as well as the expiring contract of backup PG Beno Udrih. Injuries have mounted for Orlando as Glen Davis is likely out for the season after surgery to repair a broken left foot and Jameer Nelson will not play tonight as he continues to sit with a strained left patella tendon. Of the current starters, Arron Afflalo is the old man at 27 years of age, with the other 4 players all 24 or younger.
Philadelphia will get another look at their last two first-round picks, sent to Orlando as part of the deal to have Andrew Bynum wear a suit on the end of the Sixers’ bench. Nikola Vucevic has shined in his second season, ranking 22nd in PER among NBA centers, while being only 1 of 10 players in the league currently averaging a double double in points and rebounds (12.3 and 11.4). Moe Harkless has played well lately seeing more of an expanded role in the wake of roster changes and injuries, putting up the following numbers over the last 10 games:
|Last 10 Games||10||35.7||.431||6.8||1.0||1.1||1.4||1.9||11.9|
His shot is still a work in progress, as he’s sunk only 22.2% of his three-points attempts and 53.7% of his free throws on the season. However, Harkless is still only 19 and has shown plenty of promise as an athletic wing and active defender.
Keys to the Game:
- Jrue Holiday needs to have his way on the offensive end and take control of the game. The Magic are splitting PG duties between E’Twuan Moore (really more of an inefficient shooting guard than a point guard) and Udrih, who’s a solid professional but not the same class of talent as Holiday. Neither of these players should be able to slow down Jrue if he decides to be assertive.
- Hawes needs to at least play his match-up with Vucevic to a draw. Spencer played very well in the first game between these teams so I actually have some hopes for this one. Maybe he’s in Nikola’s head from going up against him in practice last season? Anyway, Vucevic will get his share of defensive rebounds but Hawes must keep him off the offensive glass and limit easy buckets in the paint.
- Contain leading scorer Arron Afflalo (16.8 ppg). Afflalo is more of a spot-up shooter and strong perimeter defender than a true creator on offense. Whether the Sixers opt to go with Nick Young or Evan Turner guarding Afflalo, they cannot provide Afflalo open looks. Make Orlando settle for shots from less-efficient shooters like Moore and Harkless.
Prediction: Sixers take on their frustration on an undermanned and outgunned Magic squad as Sixers fans remember what he feels like to celebrate a win.