In a game that shouldn't have been as close as it was, the Orlando Magic edged the Philadelphia 76ers, 103-98, for their third straight victory. Orlando now has its longest winning streak of the season.
Nik Vučević dominated his former club with 31 points and 14 rebounds, showing excellent poise and decisiveness in the post against Nerlens Noel, the Sixers' rookie shot-blocker. Channing Frye added a solid 15 points of his own, going 3-of-7 on three-pointers in one of his better outings in an Orlando uniform. And on his 21st birthday, rookie point guard Elfrid Payton did a bit of everything, tallying 10 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
JaKarr Sampson led Philly with 16 points, including 14 in the final period as the 76ers made their push. Robert Covington fouled out with 16 points.
The Sixers managed to hang around thanks to the three-ball; how else to explain trailing by just eight at halftime despite scoring a mere four points in the painted area? Philly went 7-of-15 from beyond the arc before intermission, with three players hitting two treys apiece.
Orlando's offense was less balanced, but more varied: Vučević tallied 13 on 6-of-12 shooting working on the inside, while Frye and Willie Green did their work on the perimeter. Orlando's spacing seems to have improved of late, and it's showing in its shooting percentages.
After Covington nailed a three-pointer to give the Sixers a five-point edge midway through the second quarter, Philly bumbled through the rest of the period, allowing the Magic to regain control. Orlando's foes went 0-of-9 from the floor and committed five turnovers for six points.
The game appeared to be Orlando's to lose as the second half opened, but Philadelphia came out of the locker room with its proverbial guns blazing: Covington, Jason Richardson, and Isaiah Canaan drilled a trio of three-pointers less than two minutes of one another, the last of which gave the Sixers a one-point edge.
But once the three-ball deserted Philadelphia again, it had nothing doing offensively, and Payton helped get Orlando back on track. He dished three assists in the period and squeezed in a tricky layup in traffic; his ability to penetrate off the dribble kept Philly scrambling.
The Sixers used a Sampson three-pointer--what else?--to cut Orlando's lead to two early in the fourth quarter, but the Magic responded by reeling off 10 straight points over the next four minutes in a run which should have put the game away.
Sampson continued to keep his team in the game, scoring 11 straight points in a two-minute span late in the fourth as Orlando failed to punish Sixers coach Brett Brown's decision to intentionally foul Payton, a poor free-throw shooter.
A pair of silly mistakes dearly cost the 76ers in their comeback attempt. First, Hollis Thompson fouled Victor Oladipo away from the ball, giving the Magic a free throw plus possession. Green tacked two more points onto that trip by drawing a shooting foul of his own. And then Thompson set an illegal screen on Philadelphia's ensuing possession. That turnover resulted in Oladipo's finding Vučević for an easy slam. In less than a minute, the more experienced, calm Magic added five points to their lead simply by making the most of the Sixers' mistakes.