By Sean Kennedy
Following a few days off, the Sixers travel to Orlando to take on a very similar Magic opponent. Like Philadelphia, Orlando is in the process of a massive re-build process, which the Sixers obviously played a huge part in. Many a Sixers fan remembers the three-way deal that, among other things, sent Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless to the sunshine state, while Philadelphia received Andrew Bynum and his chronic arthritic knees. While the only thing in Philadelphia that benefited from that trade was the bowling industry, the Magic emerged as the big winners, with Vucevic continuing to stake his claim as one of the best rebounders in the league, and Harkless showing some great flashes at the tender age of 20.
As for tonight’s game, the Magic will be on the tail-end of a back-to-back for the Magic after a convincing win in Atlanta last night. Orlando sits at 5-9 due mostly to one of the largest turnover margins in the league, to borrow a football term. The Magic have one of the higher turnover rates in the league and don’t force many turnovers themselves; you’re not going to win many games that way.
The Sixers will definitely have Tony Wroten back on the floor tonight and Spencer Hawes is expected to play as well (Thad Young will still be out dealing with a family matter). Those two and the rest of the Sixers will have to contend with a deep Orlando roster, led by Arron Afflalo. Afflalo is 11th in the league in scoring, averaging 21.9 points on a sparkling 48.4% from the field and 51.3% from behind the arc. Making just under $8 million per year and still under team control next season, he would be one of the most sought-after trade targets in the league if Orlando decides to go full-on tank mode later in the year.
As mentioned, Vucevic continues to gobble up rebounds like a hungry hippo with marbles, sitting 5th in the league at 11.0 per game. The Magic also have Glen Davis back from injury, but may once again be without Tobias Harris, after he sat last night with a sore ankle following his long-awaited return to the lineup on Sunday. Guys like Harkless and Andrew Niicholson will continue to see increased minutes if Harris is out once again tonight.
Finally, no Magic preview would be complete without discussing MCW’s main competition for rookie of the year, Victor Oladipo. As you might expect from a rookie, Oladipo has struggled with his shooting efficiency (40.4%) and taking care of the basketball (3.9 turnovers per game). However, he’s shown that his vaunted defensive prowess and athleticism translate to the professional level, and his outside shooting has been average (34.2% on threes), when it was expected to be a weak spot for him initially. MCW is the clear-cut frontrunner for the award at the moment, but if the Magic trade one or two of their veterans like Afflalo or former St. Joes Hawk Jameer Nelson, and hand the reins to Oladipo, watch out.
I’ll be most intrigued by watching the Oladipo-Michael Carter-Williams match-up when they’re on the floor together, a playback of last season’s Sweet 16 matchup when Syracuse upset the Hoosiers. But really, the game will be decided by whether the Sixers can keep Vucevic and Davis off the glass, especially with Young out again. Also, Philadelphia can’t afford to let Afflalo get off, we’ve seen how porous the perimeter defense can be this season and he’s the perfect candidate to have a huge game against the Sixers. With Hawes back in the lineup and the Magic having played last night though, I think Philadelphia could pull this one out in a close game.