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Magic vs. Sixers preview: Magic’s perfect start gets big test

The 4-0 Magic look to remain the league’s only unbeaten team

Philadelphia 76ers v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Magic face a big test in their quest for a perfect season.

Out to a 4-0 start for the first time in franchise history, the Magic return home after a three-game road trip to take on one of the Eastern Conference’s elite in the Philadelphia 76ers. While some have diminished the Magic’s strong start to the season on account of the competition they’ve faced over their last three games, a win over the Sixers certainly might make a more convincing statement and open some eyes.

The Sixers, who have already lost to one previously surprise unbeaten team in the Cavaliers, are off to a 3-1 start this season following a comeback victory over the Raptors on Tuesday. We are quite familiar with the cast of characters coming to town: the franchise players in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, some old friends in Tobias Harris and Doc Rivers and Dwight Howard, and some new additions like Danny Green and Seth Curry.

The Sixers and their fans will be seeing a familiar face of their own in Markelle Fultz. Fultz, in three games against his former team last season, averaged 11.3 points, 4.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 23.7 minutes per. The Magic won two of those three games against the Sixers last season, with their loss coming in the NBA bubble.

Fultz on Thursday spoke of his growth in Orlando following his disappointing and mysterious tenure in Philadelphia.

“One, I’m healthy,” he said. “Two, I just think I have an opportunity to be at one position and to have the ball in my hands, and to be able to make plays and be comfortable doing that. And I just think my teammates help me as well. But I think the biggest thing about it is just being healthy and just having an opportunity to have the ball in my hands, play freely and play my game.”

Fultz has shown that in the early going of his second year with the Magic, seeing his usage jump from 21.4% last season to 27.1% so far this season. averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 assists in 30.3 minutes per. His outside shot remains a concern - with 40 percent of his field goal attempts coming from the 3-to-10 foot range - but Philly fans familiar with Fultz’s viral pump-fake free throw form might be surprised to see the point guard’s current free throw percentage: 93.3%.

Fultz, over the league’s first week of the season, has helped the Magic produce the league’s fifth best offensive rating at 114.3 points per 100 possessions. It’s an impressive number given the Magic’s overall struggles from deep, where they are hitting just 34.9 percent of their three-point attempts (19th in league). They have compensated for that with their efficiency in the paint and mid-range, and by getting to the line 28.3 times per game (fourth most in league), with their free throws currently accounting for 19.1 percent of their total points (fifth highest percentage in the league).

The Magic are at an offensive disadvantage against the Sixers without the red-hot Terrence Ross, who will miss the game due to right hamstring irritation.

If the lone unbeaten team in the league hopes to remain that way, someone will have to step up offensively to fill the void.

Who: Orlando Magic (4-0) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (3-1)

When: Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Amway Center — Orlando, Florida

TV: Fox Sports Florida, NBA TV