Game Recap: Magic 124, Sixers 115

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

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Snapshot:
Since returning from the NBA All-Star Break, the 76ers (8-48) have put up impressive offensive numbers.  The team’s top priority, however, remains shoring up its efforts on the opposite end of the court.  Tuesday at The Center, it was the playoff-hungry Orlando Magic (25-30) that were a little more powerful, and a little more potent, prevailing, 124-115.  

The Sixers and Orlando both enjoyed successful offensive showings Tuesday.  The Sixers generated a season-high point total, and converted 54.4 percent of their field goal attempts, in what was the club’s second-most accurate performance of the year.  The Sixers also went 10 for 21 from three-point territory.

The Magic, meanwhile, knocked down 48.2 percent of their shots, and buried seven of 14 heaves from beyond the arc.  The area in which the visitors gained a considerable edge was from the stripe.  They sunk 35 of 41 free throws, outscoring the Sixers by 16 in that department.  Additionally, Orlando’s managed to force the Sixers into 22 giveaways, which resulted in the Magic establishing a 28-13 advantage in points off turnovers.

Propelled by an energetic start to the third quarter, the Sixers needed less than four minutes to erase a five-point deficit.  By the midway point of the period, they had surged in front by six, thanks to a spirited scoring flurry from Ish Smith, who tacked on nine points during the Sixers’ lead-changing 13-2 tear.  

Behind an 11-4 finish to the third, Orlando, which entered the evening 4.5 games out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot, showed it still had more to offer.  The Magic then opened the fourth quarter with another vital run, bursting for an 11-2 blitz.  The push was enough for Orlando to pull away.

Smith paced the Sixers with 22 points (7-15 fg, 2-3 3fg), delivering his eighth 20-point game of the season.  Nerlens Noel registered his 11th double-double with 16 points (6-9 fg) and 11 rebounds.  Jahlil Okafor scored 17 points (8-13 fg).

Fifth-year Orlando center Nik Vucevic topped all players with 35 points (13-21 fg), a total two off his career-high.  Vucevic played a pivotal role in helping the Magic set the tone in Tuesday’s contest, producing 12 points in the first quarter.

Brett Brown Said - On the Sixers aiming to fine-tune their defense:
“I think the energy is now where we need it to be.  I think the individual defenders when we start games have got to improve and get going.  I think the spirit and energy from our second group is for the most part where we want it to be.  We need better defense from that starting group.”

Top Moments:
As the Sixers strung together a go-ahead 17-7 run midway through the third quarter, Nik Stauskas capped the stretch by depositing the nifty bucket shown below.

A second sequence that stood out from the Sixers’ third-quarter spurt came courtesy of two of the team’s top performers from Tuesday’s game.  Tom McGinnis provided the call on the Sixers Radio Network.

Notes and Quotes:

  • Entering Tuesday’s pairing with Orlando, the Sixers’ primary area of focus was defense.  During the middle-third of their season, which Brett Brown defines as lasting from the Christmas holiday through the NBA All-Star Game, the Sixers turned in the 11th-best defensive rating in the league, at 103.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.  

    The Sixers’ defensive results in their first three games back from the break have been different.  They yielded 121 points to New Orleans on Friday, 129 points to Dallas on Sunday, and then 124 points to Orlando on Tuesday.

    T.J. McConnell, third on the Sixers with 71 steals, spoke prior to Tuesday’s tip-off about what he and the Sixers were aiming to accomplish on the defensive end of the court going into their match-up with the Magic.  

    “To get a lot more stops than we did last game, that’s for sure,” said McConnell.  “I think against New Orleans and Dallas, we kind of, we weren’t ourselves defensively, and I think we need to get back to that tonight.”

    As for the notion that the Sixers’ recent eight-day could be a looming factor?

    “We can’t keep saying that,” McConnell said.  “I know people says you’re just getting back from All-Star, but that’s  no excuse.  We just got to buck down and get some stops.”

    After Orlando scored 67 points and shot 52.3 percent from the field in the first half, the Sixers made strides defensive in the second stanza.  The Magic notched 57 points between the third quarter, and hit 43.9 percent of its shots amidst that same segment of the game.

  • In the early stages of Tuesday’s first quarter, momentum belonged almost exclusively to Orlando.  The Magic relied on center Nik Vucevic to help build a nine-point margin on three-separate occasions, including Orlando’s 25-16 advantage that came with just under four and a half minutes remaining in the opening period.  Thanks to T.J. McConnell and his fellow cast of reserves, the Sixers received a needed spark, closing the frame on a 17-10 spurt to slice their deficit to two points.  

    The closing stages of the second quarter played out in similar fashion.  With McConnell running the point, the Sixers finished strong, whittling a game-high 11-point gap down to five points by the break.

    That the undrafted McConnell has managed to not only make an impact at the NBA level the likes of which he has with the Sixers, but also emerge as one of the most productive first-year players this season is no surprise to a high-profile former college teammate.

    “I’ve known he was going to be a pro from the moment I saw him,” said Orlando forward Aaron Gordon Tuesday morning, following the Magic’s shootaround.  Gordon played alongside McConnell at Arizona during the 2013-2014 season, McConnell’s first with the program.  Gordon was a freshman that year, turned pro following the campaign, and ended up being the fourth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft

    “He’s really what made us tick at Arizona,” Gordon said.   “I think in our first couple pre-season games is when we were first starting to get used to each other, he just like ripped the other point guard three straight times at halfcourt, and went down and got an And-1 on the third one, so I was like, ‘We’re about to turn up this year.’”

    Turn up in 2013-2014 Arizona did, producing 33 victories, then the second-most in a season in Wildcats history.  They reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament that spring as well.

    “Everything is a good recollection with T.J. McConnell,” said Gordon.  “He’s the best.  I love T.J.”

    With 66 seconds remaining in the third quarter, McConnell sustained a right ankle sprain.  He did not return to the game, and finished the evening with eight points (4-6 fg) and four assists.  McConnell is the only member of the Sixers to have appeared in all 56 of the team’s contests this season.

  • With the Sixers idle on Monday, Nik Stauskas met with members of the team’s medical staff.  The second-year shooting guard has dealt with lingering soreness in his right shin throughout the season, and began experiencing some tenderness in that area again on the heels of Saturday’s practice in New Orleans.  
    After his day of rest, and getting feedback from doctors, Stauskas provided a positive update on Tuesday.

    “It’s actually been feeling pretty good,” he said.  “At this point, they’re keeping me on a 25 minute per game restriction, so we just don’t want to overdo it for this next week or two, and just kind of take it day-to-day, but no need to miss time or anything like that or sit out.”

    Stauskas played through the home stretch of the fourth quarter.  He logged 24 total minutes, and posted five points (2-5 fg, 1-3 3fg).

    “It’s just one of those things throughout the season you’re going to get bumps and bruises, and things are going to be sore,” said Stauskas, whose movements did not seem to be impeded by his shin issue.   “Everyone’s kind of feeling like that at this point.   We’re glad that we just kind of caught things early and we can kind of monitor things from here on out.”

Next Up:
The Sixers cap their 12th back-to-back set of the season by making another midweek trip to The Palace of Auburn Hills.  The Sixers visited the Detroit Pistons (28-29) on Wednesday, January 27th, a 110-97 loss, and will be back at the venue again this Wednesday for a 7:30 PM EST pairing.  On Monday, Detroit put the breaks on a poorly-timed skid by earning an impressive 96-88 road win at Cleveland.  Prior to claiming their second victory of the season over the Cavs, the Pistons had fallen in a season-high five consecutive contests.  Not only did the slide drop Detroit under .500 for the first time since November, it also, at least for now, knocked the Pistons out of one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spots.  Charlotte, via a five-game winning streak, has surged into a seventh-place tie with the Chicago Bulls, overtaking Detroit in the process.  To bolster their post-season push, the Pistons traded for Orlando forward Tobias Harris last week.  The 19th overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft has scored 51 points through three outings with his new team.