By Sean Kennedy
For a while Sunday night, it looked as though the Sixers long losing skid was going to come to an end. Facing an Orlando team without two starters in Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson, the Sixers had control most of the way, assuming the rare role of front-runner for the better part of three quarters. Michael Carter-Williams looked fired up from the opening tip as he scored 12 points in the first quarter, barking at everybody to try to get his team fired up. Whether he was just rising to the challenge of facing Victor Oladipo after getting outplayed by his fellow rookie of the year candidate earlier in the week, or if he was just sick of all the losing, I don’t know, because it didn’t last anyway. MCW went ice-cold from the floor, started forcing things late, and the Sixers offense began to unravel. When the Magic went on a 13-2 run to start the fourth quarter and re-take the lead (including hitting their only three in 13 attempts on the night), that spelled curtains for Philadelphia in a 92-81 defeat.
Tobias Harris dominated on the offensive end for Orlando, dropping 13 points in the first quarter, but unlike MCW, Harris built on his strong start on the way to a career-high 31 points. Like Thad Young, Harris is a tough matchup for opposing forwards in that tweener role, quicker than fours and able to do work on the interior against small forwards. The whole range of his offensive arsenal was on display as he hit a number of mid-range jumpers and attacking to the basket on his way to a 9-9 night at the free throw line. Then, in addition to Harris’ efforts, former Sixer Nik Vucevic was his typical hoover vacuum around the basket, snagging 17 rebounds to go with 18 points.
Carter-Williams finished the game with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists, but as mentioned, most of that production came in the first quarter and he tied a career-worst with 8 turnovers. After the rookie point guard slowed down, Thad Young picked up the offensive slack, dropping a game-high 29 points on 13-25 shooting. Thad drained his first 3 three-point attempts to help Philadelphia build their first-half lead, but unfortunately didn’t get much help from his teammates in that area, as the rest of the Sixers combined to shoot just 2-17 from behind the arc. That offensive futility led to one of the Sixers’ lower offensive outputs on the season, and ultimately, their 14th-straight defeat. With multiple losses to the Magic and the Bucks in the past week, I can’t imagine what’s going to happen when Philadelphia’s rag-tag group goes up against one of the NBA’s best in Kevin Durant and the Thunder Tuesday night.
- Recent 10-day contract signing Jarvis Varnado played significant minutes for the first time with Sixers and brought an element to the team’s back line that has been sorely lacking all season. Still the NCAA D-1 leader in career blocks from his days at Mississippi State, Varnado had three emphatic blocks and actually looked the part of a rim protector. His offensive game is a mess (he actually switches the hand on the ball during the release of his free throw), but Brett Brown liked Varnado’s defensive work enough to have him in there in crunch-time.
- Both young Sixers centers had encouraging outings as Henry Sims scored a career-high 12 points to go along with 7 rebounds. Sims gets up and down the court pretty well for a big man, and got a few run-out baskets in Brett Brown’s up-tempo system. He does a good job holding his ground defensively in the post, but needs to learn how to defend without fouling. It wasn’t really an issue for him before playing spot minutes, but if he’s going to get extended run for the Sixers, he needs to stay on the court.
The Sixers are fast approaching their franchise-worst 20-game losing streak set by the historically bad 9-73 team in 1972-73. They’re also more than halfway to the worst losing streak in NBA history, the 26-game run of futility by the post-LeBron Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11. I wonder if Sam Hinkie watches clips of those teams for inspiration (Ricky Davis is in the D-league, he’s available!). The loss to Orlando moved the Sixers three games back of the Magic for the third-worst record, and given the fact that it’s looking exceedingly unlikely they’ll win 3 games the rest of the way, Philadelphia has at least the second-worst record all but locked up. MCW showed flashes of his early season dominance in the first quarter, the team got good minutes from the Sims-Varnado center tandem, and more importantly for my sanity, they kept the game competitive most of the way. 4/5 tanks