Our Record: 26-15/22-19 ATS
The Orlando Magic suffered a second straight 1-3 road trip. There is no solace in that all three losses were close, just as all three losses in the Magic's West Coast road trip earlier this month were also close. Orlando is in the business of getting wins and the team desperately needs wins to keep pace.
Orlando can take some solace that the team is defending well. And the team can take solace that it is getting healthier. The Magic are not getting blown out and are still very competitive. There is no reason to think this team cannot get a big boost with its return to the Amway Center.
The Philadelphia 76ers though can be a juggernaut. Joel Embiid is on a wild streak of 30/10 games and is a handful for any defense, even a good one like the Magic's. This Sixers team can tear apart a team that laxes for a little bit.
Will Orlando feel a boost from coming home? Can the team get its offense back in shape to keep pace? Those are the ultimate questions for this team.
3 Keys To Watch
Orlando Magic's Defense is Back
The Orlando Magic have been feeling their defense slip over the last couple of weeks. The numbers do not show that and the team remains a top-five defensive team for the entire season. But there are little holes that have been poked into the balloon.
The end of Wednesday's game against the Atlanta Hawks seemed to throw away a really good defensive effort with that five-offensive-rebound possession and three fouls in the final three minutes on Trae Young that allowed him to get to the line. The Hawks scored on the final five possessions of the game, preventing Orlando from getting all the way back (despite Paolo Banchero's heroics).
The Magic's defense though found a groove on this road trip. They posted a 110.2 defensive rating in the last four games with two games holding opponents under 100 points. That is a credit to the team getting back to forcing turnovers and being a lot more disruptive.
Health goes a long way.
The Magic's issue is not their defense. They defend well. Right now, they are just not scoring enough to make that defense matter.
Joel Embiid's crazy run
The challenge for that Orlando Magic defense tonight is to defend Joel Emiid. And, honestly, at this point, there may not be a way to stop him at all.
Embiid is averaging 35.8 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game and 6.5 assists per game in four games since returning from injury. He has had at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in 16 of his last 17 games. He is just a scoring monster who can beat good defense and score from all three levels.
Beating the Sixers is not easy. Embiid is going to get his. It is just about making it hard for him and trying to close off the rest of his outlets.
But Embiid has been excellent. And that is an understatement.
Battle for the Paint
When the Orlando Magic lost to the Philadelphia 76ers back in December, it was shocking because the Sixers did not have Joel Embiid and they still dominated the paint. In that game, Philadelphia won the paint 58-40.
That was not the fewest points the Magic have scored in the paint this year -- that would be the 24 points in the paint they scored in the double-overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings. But this remains a huge factor for the Magic.
Orlando is eighth in the league right now with 53.1 points in the paint per game. And that is a number that has been slipping -- 41.5 per game since Franz Wagner got out of the lineup with the ankle injury in Sacramento. Orlando had back-to-back 50 points-in-the-paint games with Monday and Wednesday's game, the first time with that in six games.
The defense has slipped too. The Magic are giving up 49.6 points in the paint per game, 15th in the league. They are giving up 57.5 points in the paint per game in the last eight games. That is a major slip for the team.
Stopping the Sixers and Embiid in the paint are a must for the team to succeed. The message should still be the same as it was after that loss to the Sixers in December: Win the paint, win the game.