The Orlando Magic came up short as they completed their first back-to-back set of the preseason, falling to the Philadelphia 76ers, 95-84, in Allentown on Saturday. A poor start doomed Orlando, which mounted a strong rally in the second half to make the score look more respectable than it ought to have.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn gave rotation players Tobias Harris, Luke Ridnour, and Nik Vučević the night off, which decision may partially explain, but not excuse, the team's poor performance. Andrew Nicholson led Orlando with 23 points in a starting role, while Drew Gordon paced the Sixers with 16 of his own in just 18 minutes off the bench.
Starting at center against his former team, Dewayne Dedmon tallied 10 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks for Orlando, more than holding his own against Henry Sims, his Philadelphia counterpart. Kyle O'Quinn tallied a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double in another strong showing.
The Sixers closed the first quarter on 24-11 run coinciding with their insertion of Drew Gordon, the older brother of Orlando rookie Aaron Gordon, into the game at center. The elder Gordon made an immediate impact, getting an and-once chance--which he failed to convert--in transition on his first offensive possession. All told, the Sixers' Gordon shot 4-of-5 from the floor for 11 points in just seven first-period minutes, allowing Philly to claim a 37-23 lead.
Orlando got off to a decent start offensively, but again had problems with turnovers: it committed four in the opening frame and earned only three free-throw attempts. Those turnovers played to the athletic Sixers' strengths, enabling them to run the floor and attack Orlando's scrambling defense. And with Ridnour's getting the night off, Elfrid Payton proved to be Orlando's only true playmaker; good looks were harder to come by when Evan Fournier and Willie Green dabbled at point guard.
The Sixers cooled in the second period, but the moribund Magic couldn't get their offense going. As Orlando radio play-by-play man described it, Philly sent extra defenders at Payton as he attempted to initiate the offense, strangling it at the point of attack and keeping the Magic flailing. An 8-0 run from Philly helped it open a 22-point edge with 2:52 to go, and it expanded the lead to as much as 25 later with an Alexey Shved layup. At the end of the half, only five Orlando players had registered in the scoring column, and just four had converted from the field. The score was Philly 62, Orlando 38, with the hosts holding a whopping plus-17 edge in points off turnovers.
The Magic scored three straight baskets, aided by back-to-back Philly turnovers, to close to within 21 early in the second half. As the Sixers' offense floundered, Orlando made its run, shaving 10 points off its halftime deficit over the course of the opening 5:30 of the third. In the final three minutes of that run, Orlando scored on five straight possessions to strengthen its momentum.
Sixers forward Arnett Moultrie contributed to the Sixers' retaking control of the game, scoring six straight Philly points, including two putbacks off his own offensive rebounds. Orlando ended the period trailing by just 16, but could have been much closer if it had made its foul shots: the Magic shot 5-of-13 from the stripe in the quarter, sabotaging their best chance at making a comeback. After all, the ideal way to erase a deficit is to score unguaraded baskets with the clock stopped. Fournier and Maurice Harkless, the Magic's starting wings, proved to be the worst offenders by combining to miss all six of their freebies in the frame.
JaKarr Sampson drilled a three-pointer to give the Sixers a 21-point edge with 10:26 to go in the game, but Orlando responded by going on a 13-0 run, capped when rookie wing Devyn Marble split a pair of foul shots. That run brought Orlando to within eight, making it anyone's game with 7:17 to go.
The Magic had several opportunities late in the game to draw closer, but failed to convert. Willie Green airballed a one-on-one jumper, resulting in a clock violation on a possession in which Orlando could have drawn to within six points with a trey. After the Sixers came up empty on the ensuing trip, the Magic missed four shots on one possession. Those two empty possessions, coupled with Orlando's game-long struggles at the foul line, made Saturday's loss one of several missed chances.
While it's heartening to see Orlando, minus four of its best players--in addition to Harris and Vučević, Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye sat out Saturday, as they have for the entire preseason--claw its way back on the road, one has to remember that it put itself in that negative position in the first place. And the Magic simply need to get more from their two-guards than they did against Philly: Fournier, Green, and Marble combined to shoot 8-of-32 for just 22 points, which poor productivity won't be enough when the games begin to count.