Magic Clinch Second Straight Playoff Berth Despite Loss to 76ers

by Josh Cohen

The Lead

The Orlando Magic had two main goals before restarting their season at Disney. They wanted to clinch their second straight playoff berth without a play-in game being required. The other was to be playing in a manner that would make them a factor in the postseason. The former has been accomplished, while the latter remains to be seen. Despite losing to the Philadelphia 76ers, 108-101, on Friday night, the Magic locked up a playoff spot via the Wizards’ elimination loss to the Pelicans.

The Top Storyline

The Magic still have a lot to play for in their remaining three seeding games. They hope to surpass the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 7 seed, which would result in them playing the Raptors in the first round. It would also be encouraging if they string together some all-around solid performances in their upcoming contests. For stretches of Friday’s game against Philadelphia, they showed a good purpose of play. But, containing Joel Embiid for an entire game proved to be too much of a chore, as the three-time All-Star scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half. The 26-year-old used his superior size and strength to outmuscle the Magic and get to the free throw line, where he knocked down nine of his 13 attempts.

The Key Stat

Not having Aaron Gordon (day-to-day with strained hamstring) or Jonathan Isaac (out for season with torn ACL) against a team like Philadelphia, which is so big up front, made it tough for Orlando to stop the Sixers in the paint and on the glass. The Sixers, who were shorthanded themselves with Ben Simmons out with a knee injury, recorded 54 points in the paint and they came down with 15 offensive rebounds, which led to them scoring 21 second chance points. All three of Philly’s starting frontcourt players scored over 20 points, including former Magic player Tobias Harris who scored 23 and former Florida Gator Al Horford who had 21. It’s worth noting that Orlando is currently giving up the second fewest offensive rebounds per game this season. Philly is No. 1 in that category.

The Best Stretch

The Magic had seized momentum away from the Sixers late in the second quarter and upheld it for a big stretch of the third. They opened up a seven-point lead at the midway point of the third when D.J. Augustin, who finished with 16 points and five assists, sank three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt. Later in the period, Markelle Fultz got into a good rhythm against his former team when he made a 3-pointer and mid-range jumper on back-to-back possessions.

The Top Performer

At the trade deadline each of the past two seasons, the Magic and 76ers made a deal. In 2019, Orlando acquired Fultz, who has had a solid first year with the Magic. In 2020, it was James Ennis III who was shipped to Orlando from Philadelphia. The 6-foot-6, 215-pounder posted 14 points and nine rebounds in his first game against the Sixers since that February deal. The Magic outscored the 76ers by three when he was on the floor. Fultz, meanwhile, finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists.

Quote of the Night

“They killed us on the boards. We let Embiid get to his comfort zone. We held him to six points in the first half and then he kind of went off in the second half. We didn’t do a great job of helping those big guys out down there with him. And just the boards. They killed us on the boards. That was the difference in the game I believe.” - Augustin on key to Friday’s result

Up Next

The Magic will look to snap their three-game skid when they take on the Celtics on Sunday at 5 p.m. Boston is likely going to be the No. 3 seed in the East playoffs. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have emerged as two of the league’s premier young players, while Kemba Walker, who has been on a minutes restriction in the first few games of the restart due to knee trouble, has always given the Magic fits going to back to his years playing under Steve Clifford in Charlotte.

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