Big week for former Philadelphia 76ers point guards who were drafted No. 1 overall.
First it was Ben Simmons who watched from the bench as his Brooklyn Nets embarrassed his former team Thursday on national television. Now it’s Markelle Fultz who faces his former team as his comeback story continues.
There are some eerie similarities between the two situations, with Simmons and Fultz having been selected first overall in consecutive drafts by the Sixers only to see their tenures in Philadelphia end with unceremonious hostility. But there are also many differences, the biggest being that Fultz is not only playing, but playing well.
Fultz is coming off his best performance since he returned on Feb. 28 following a torn ACL, recording season-highs of 14 points and seven assists in 18 minutes during the Magic’s comeback win over the Timberwolves. Per 36 minutes, Fultz is averaging 22.0 points, 9.3 assists and 5.5 rebounds while shooting over 53 percent from the field and 81 percent from the line.
Markelle Fultz last night:— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) March 12, 2022
+13 +/- pic.twitter.com/7VVZCdurfm
“To be where I am now coming from what I came from, I give a big shoutout to my teammates, my coaches, this whole organization because they stayed behind me and helped me go through the tough days and the good ones,” Fultz said after Friday’s win. “So, I feel amazing. I’m just happy to be back out there and to have the opportunity to get better everyday. I’m just thankful for that. I feel like I’m doing an amazing job. My goal for the rest of the season is just to finish the season healthy and continue to help this team get better and get some more wins.”
Fultz and the Magic have done just that of late, going 5-3 since the All-Star break while posting the league’s top defensive rating over that stretch at 105.7 points per 100 possessions. The Magic will be looking to get their first three-game winning streak of the season, but face a tall order in trying to accomplish that when they face a Sixers team that is favored by 13 points.
The Sixers are out to avenge what was a 129-100 loss to Simmons’ Nets on Thursday, their second-worst home loss of the season. It was the first time Philadelphia lost with James Harden on the court, having won the first five games he played in since being acquired. During that stretch, Harden averaged 24.6 points and 12.4 assists while helping the Sixers produce the top offensive rating in the league at over 126 points per.
He vanished in the Sixers’ loss to his former team on Thursday, with just 11 points and five assists while shooting a dismal 3-for-17 from the field.
“Since I’ve been here everything has been sweet and we’ve been winning games, and so tonight was good for us,” Harden said after the loss to the Nets. “We get an opportunity to come down to reality, watch film and just continue to get better.”
Tyrese Maxey certainly has been better since Harden came to town. The second-year guard entered Thursday’s game against the Nets averaging 23.5 points and shooting 61.3 percent on 5.2 threes per in the six games since Harden joined the Sixers. He posted just four points against the Nets, missing both of his three-point attempts.
The NBA’s co-leading scorer Joel Embiid, in three Sixers wins against the Magic this season, has averaged 32.3 points on 54.1 percent shooting. That included matching a career-high 50 points in just 27 minutes in the last meeting between the two teams on Jan. 19.
That was the same night that Mo Bamba went off for a career-high 32 points, scoring 28 first-half points on 7-for-8 shooting from deep. Bamba, who is questionable for Sunday’s game with a calf bruise, had his best game since that career night on Friday with 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting and 12 rebounds.
He was part of an Orlando big-man trio that helped the Magic erase an 18-point deficit to defeat Minnesota, with Wendell Carter Jr. recording 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Moe Wagner adding 18 points and six rebounds in just 13 minutes. They’ll be tasked with trying to contain Embiid while also offering some help on Harden when he attacks the basket.
Challenging assignment for the underdog Magic, but it comes at a time when they are playing their best basketball of the season.
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Who: Philadelphia 76ers (40-25) at Orlando Magic (18-50)
When: Sunday at 6 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida
TV: Bally Sports Florida
Line: Sixers -13, Over/Under 223