Seemingly back on track after a run of defeats on the road against a group of Western Conference contenders, the Philadelphia 76ers were in a flow until their most recent stumble Wednesday.
The Sixers will enter Friday’s game on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder after an unexpected 112-97 defeat to the Orlando Magic.
Like a defeat at Phoenix on Nov. 4, the Sixers fell Wednesday on the road without Joel Embiid on the court. The Philadelphia big man was officially listed on the injury report with a sore left knee, leaving the Sixers to make up for the 23.0 points and 12.4 rebounds he supplies each game.
Perhaps it was Embiid’s defense that Philadelphia missed most. Magic center Nikola Vucevic scored 23 points and Orlando used a 32-15 scoring advantage in the final quarter to pull off the victory.
Embiid is expected back for the matchup with the Thunder. His night off likely was more about his load-management strategy than anything, with the Sixers also playing Tuesday night when they earned a hard-fought 98-97 victory at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Embiid had the go-ahead dunk with 13.2 seconds remaining in that one.
Josh Richardson had 19 points to lead the Sixers on Wednesday against the Magic, while Ben Simmons had 18. Tobias Harris sacrificed offense to deliver 10 rebounds, matching his most since he had 15 boards in a season-opening victory over the Boston Celtics.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown said recently he envisions Richardson sliding into a playmaking role and Harris acclimating to launch mode.
“I look at Tobias as, kind of, my new J.J. I want him really hunting threes. I want him thinking that way. With J-Rich, you go through the process of … I believe that, when mid-April comes, there’s a significant chance that he will be the back-up point guard,” Brown said, drawing a comparison to the way the San Antonio Spurs utilized Manu Ginobili behind Tony Parker.
After Friday’s game at Oklahoma City, the Sixers are scheduled for another meeting with the feisty Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon, but this time at Cleveland to end their trip.
The Thunder has flashed reasons for optimism, but continue to struggle in their effort to find a flow with their guard-heavy rotation that includes Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder.
The Thunder will enter Friday’s game following a 111-85 defeat on the road against the Indiana Pacers. Of the team’s trio of top guards, only Gilgeous-Alexander scored in double figures in the defeat and his 11 points were well under his season average of 20.1.
Schroder had nine points and Paul had just seven in 25 minutes with eight assists. Danilo Gallinari led Oklahoma City in scoring on Wednesday with 14 points as the Thunder shot just 35.8 percent from the field and 24.0 percent from 3-point range.
It was the Thunder’s second consecutive defeat and their third loss in their past four games. At 4-7, life without Russell Westbrook and Paul George has been a challenge.
But Tuesday was really the first time the Thunder had been non-competitive in a game. They lost by 12 to the Washington Wizards on Oct. 25, but against the Pacers they were legitimately blown out in a defeat.
“You can always just go back to, how do you get an easier shot? And that’s with movement, pace,” said Thunder center Steven Adams, according to the Daily Oklahoman, after he scored 10 points with six rebounds against the Pacers.
“Our pace was (expletive). Speed of the game offensively needs to ramp up. When we did do that, when we got them behind the ball, we were getting really good looks.”
–Field Level Media