The 3-1 Sixers are back on the road Thursday to play the 4-0 Magic in their final game of 2020.
Joel Embiid is listed as probable with back tightness after he had an injury scare in the Sixers’ win Tuesday over the Raptors. Embiid said he was “fine” after the game, joking that he’d broken his back.
Here are the essentials:
When: 6:30 p.m. with Sixers Pregame Live at 6 p.m.
Where: Amway Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app
And here are three storylines to watch:
Heading into this season, not many people would’ve picked the Magic to be the NBA’s last undefeated team, but here we are.
Orlando has three former Sixers in its rotation in Nikola Vucevic, Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams. James Ennis, who started 18 games for the Magic after being traded from Philadelphia in February, has missed the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury.
While the Raptors’ best offense against the Sixers came from long distance, Orlando has not shot the three-pointer often or especially well. According to Cleaning the Glass, 49.6 percent of the Magic’s shots have been mid-range attempts, by far the most in the NBA. The team is 30th in attempts at the rim and 29th in three-point frequency.
If Orlando sticks with a similar shot profile, the Sixers will hope to defend the mid-range well, limit the number of free throws they allow and spark transition offense with turnovers. That’s been easier said than done thus far against the Magic.
Since joining the Sixers, head coach Doc Rivers has been consistent in saying he’s not worried about Ben Simmons’ jump shot.
That remains the case after Simmons shot 3 for 11 from the floor Tuesday night and Rivers was asked whether he feels he needs more from the 24-year-old offensively.
“No, I want to win,” Rivers said. “Someone told me this long ago: You win the game and you keep winning games. And you don’t worry about where or who scores. Ben missed some great shots tonight. If he had converted two or three of the layups that he made and got to the foul line a little bit more, he would’ve been fine. We played good offense, we just couldn’t make shots — literally couldn’t make shots by our shooters. That’s all I’m concerned with.
“But I could care less. I’ll let you guys talk about what Ben doesn’t do. I just want Ben to keep playing great defense, running our team and winning games.”
Simmons’ longest field goal attempt so far this regular season was his first, a missed 13-foot jumper on opening night. He’s drawn 7.3 free throws per game, nearly two higher than his previous career best. That was an emphasis for him offensively entering the season.
Though he’s coming off of a 4-for-16 shooting night against the Thunder, Markelle Fultz has opened the season impressively. Both Fultz and Joel Embiid were among the six nominees for the season’s first Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award. The 22-year-old is averaging 18.3 points. 5.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and one steal per game.
Fultz has now played 76 regular-season games with the Magic, compared to 33 during his Sixers tenure. He’s clearly benefited from the change of scenery, signing an extension with the Magic earlier this month. And, even if he’s not stroking long-range jumpers with regularity (3 of 10 from three-point range), Fultz has made 14 of his first 15 foul shots.
As a reminder, the Sixers were able to draft rookie Tyrese Maxey thanks to the Fultz trade and the rather fortunate fact that Oklahoma City’s first-round pick this year was outside of the top 20.