Our Record: 20-9/15-14 ATS
The Orlando Magic are still looking to prove themselves against the best teams in the Eastern Conference. This month has not been good for the Magic claiming a top spot in the East and breaking through into the top group.
The Orlando Magic have losses to the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks in the last few weeks. Plus last week's loss to the Miami Heat. The Magic are in fourth in the East, but not comfortably so. And they will have plenty of opportunities this week to stake their claim -- the New York Knicks come to town Friday before the team ships out West.
Beating the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday is not going to convince anyone that the Orlando Magic are a top team. Joel Embiid has been ruled OUT with a right ankle sprain. This is a very different 76ers team without him.
But it is still one that can be potent with scorers in Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre and Tobias Harris. Not to mention solid defensive principles. This is no walk in the park, even if the Magic are favored on the second night of a back-to-back.
3 Keys to Watch
Fighting for Turnovers
The Orlando Magic are always playing a numbers game. They are not a strong three-point shooting team and shoot a low volume and so they are always working on ways to try to make up ground. That is why it is so critical for the Orlando Magic to score in the paint -- they had 70 in Tuesday's win over the Washington Wizards -- and get to the foul line.
The other way the Magic win this possession battle and makeup ground is by forcing and scoring off a lot of turnovers.
Orlando is third in the league forcing a turnover rate of 15.8 percent this season. The team is second in the league with 19.6 points off turnovers per game. The Magic are an extremely disruptive defensive team and they do a good job creating points off these turnovers.
This will be the challenge in this game. The Sixers are fifth in the league with a 12.8 turnover rate. While Philadelphia's offense should take a dent without Joel Embiid, whether Orlando can win or not might come down to how much Orlando can force turnovers and get extra possessions.
Philadelphia without Embiid
The big story -- and the reason why the Orlando Magic are favored to win this game -- is the absence of Joel Embiid from this game for the second straight outing with a sprained right ankle. The Sixers are a different team without him.
This is not even getting into their 0-4 record without Embiid. Philadelphia has an unreal +14.0 net rating with Embiid on the floor this season (122.8 offensive rating/108.8 defensive rating). The 76ers are still +6.7 points per 100 possessions (117.5/110.7 split) with Embiid off the floor.
This is still a potent team with veterans who know how to play. But Philadelphia is beatable when Embiid is off the floor. And that is the difference.
Things get worse in the games Embiid misses.
In those games, Philadelphia had defensive ratings of 115.5, 122.8, 121.4 and 117.8. There is definitely a way to attack the paint with the Sixers playing without Embiid.
Paolo's Killer December
We have written about it several times already, but Paolo Banchero is having a killer December. With two games remaining in the month, it is worth resetting just how good Banchero has been.
In December, Banchero is averaging 24.9 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game and 4.7 assists per game. He is shooting 45.6 percent from the floor overall, down from his November, but still solid for his high-usage play.
Banchero is making his case to be an All-Star and another few weeks of play like this should clinch his spot in Indianapolis.
But there is more to it. Just look at the shots he was making and the way he controlled the game Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Banchero is capping a stellar month where he picked up his scoring. And there is certainly more to come.