By Sean Kennedy
Following an embarrassing defeat to the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks, it seemed kismet that the Sixers’ next game would be against an Orlando squad sporting the third-worst record, almost as if the team was cycling through an ordered schedule until coming across an opponent they could measure up against. Seeking some sort of resistance on the defensive end from his club, Brett Brown gave new Sixer Henry Sims his first career start in place of Arnett Moultrie and inserted Hollis Thompson back as a starter in place of Tony Wroten. Some combination of those moves, Orlando being without leading scorer Arron Afflalo due to an ankle injury, as well as the recently bought-out Glen Davis, and the Magic being the 5th-worst offense in the league anyway, combined to help Philadelphia put forth one of their better defensive efforts of the season. The Sixers allowed a season-low 40 points in the first half and the teams were still tied after three quarters; it looked as though the losing skid might finally be over and Sam Hinkie would be in for a sleepless night worrying about jumping ahead of the Magic in the standings.
However, the fourth quarter was a different story, as the Magic caught fire from the outside, a story as familiar and tired to Philadelphia fans as throwing snowballs at Santa or cheering Michael Irvin’s injury. Orlando hit their first 7 shots in the fourth, including a 4-4 effort from three, to break open what had been a back-and-forth game for an eventual 101-90 Magic victory, ending their own franchise-tying 16-game road losing streak. As a result, the Sixers finished their first winless month since 1973, a mark I don’t think even the tanking puppeteers in the front office were aspiring to reach.
Jameer Nelson, the elder statesman of the game at 32 years of age, showed his veteran composure by stepping up for 12 points in the final quarter alone. Nelson was a steadying influence for the young Magic team, finishing with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 12 assists against zero turnovers. The Philly native treated his teammates to Jim’s Steaks after the game and he’s safe to say he earned his wiz-wit on this night.
The game was billed as the matchup between the top-two rookie of the year contenders, as Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo had combined to become the first rookies in NBA history to each have a triple-double in a game when these two teams battled it out through two overtimes earlier this season. However, from that perspective the game was a bit of a letdown with neither player having particularly good games by their standards. Oladipo did record a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, also getting the block of the night when he met Thad Young at the peak of his jump to swat away Thad’s dunk attempt in the closing minutes. Still, the rookie had 7 turnovers and generally looked lost trying to run the offense for the Magic; it was only when Nelson took over the reins that they were able to get anything working. MCW was even less of a factor with just 8 points on 3-13 shooting. Unlike the Milwaukee game, the young Sixer was unable to finish on his forays into the paint, and was looking to the ref for a bailout call on more than one occasion. Hopefully, that is not a habit he picked up from Evan Turner.
A couple new Sixers did have nice efforts to help the cause. Henry Sims made the most of his start, compiling 10 points and 6 rebounds, in addition to showing some defensive jumps against Nik Vucevic, who recorded many of his game-high 21 points when Byron Mullens was in the game. Sims also had a terrific move where he got Kyle O’Quinn off his feet with a pump fake and drove to the rim for a slam. Also, Eric Maynor contributed a season-high 13 points off the bench, hitting a few pretty floaters in the lane and providing a steadying presence at the point guard position that has been missing from the team for most of the season. Plus/minus isn’t a perfect stat by any means, but the fact that those two guys were the only two on the team with a positive mark in that category was a pretty fair indication of their fine play on the night. Unfortunately, the Sixers need all hands on deck to beat anyone these days and they just didn’t get that Wednesday night.
- The fool’s gold success of his first Sixers performance quickly evaporated for Byron ‘don’t call me B.J.’ Mullens. As mentioned, Vucevic did a lot of his damage when Mullens was in the lineup, and things were even worse on the offensive end for the big man. Mullens went 0-5 from the field in the first quarter, as the sparse Wells Fargo Center crowd started booing him after his 5th miss. Later in the game, Malik Rose came about as close as he ever does to calling a player out. He referred to Mullens as a sharp-shooting big man, then quickly corrected himself, saying well, maybe not sharp-shooting, but outside shooting big man.
- It wasn’t his best performance despite the team-high 19 points, but one sequence in the fourth quarter perfectly encapsulated everything Thad Young brings to the table, even with the season crumbling around him. With the Sixers playing a small lineup, Young was forced to guard Vucevic, who has a good 4 inches on him. Thad did a good job fronting him, then helped off his man and grabbed a steal. He took the ball the length of the court himself and faked a pass to the corner to fool Oladipo and go up for an easy lay-up.
Solid effort from some of the youngters for the Sixers in this one. Sims and Maynor both played well as discussed, and Tony Wroten also had a nice game off the bench with 15 points and a remarkable snuff of the 7-footer Vucevic from behind. Philadelphia was one quarter away from breaking the losing skid, which would have been good for morale, but the tanking train moves on nevertheless. The loss put a 2-game distance between the Sixers and Orlando, and Brett Brown’s boys are only three games ahead of Milwaukee for the NBA draft lottery pole position. 4/5 tanks