If the Philadelphia 76ers can consistently play the way they did on Christmas Day in their dismantling of the Milwaukee Bucks. Philadelphia was firing on all cylinders in the demolition of Milwaukee, who entered the game with the best record in the NBA.
The 76ers made a statement in their 121-109 victory that they can’t be overlooked among the league’s legitimate title contenders. Joel Embiid played arguably the best overall game of his career. He was absolutely everywhere, finishing with 31 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and a pair of blocks in just 28 minutes of work. The Bucks had absolutely no answer for Embiid inside, which could be a sign of things to come if these teams meet in the playoffs.
The Sixers were aided by some red-hot 3-point shooting, as they tied a record with 21 made 3-pointers on 44 attempts, which comes out to nearly 48 percent.
The Magic, meanwhile, haven’t played since a 103-95 win at home over the Bulls on Monday. Orlando is finally getting healthy, as Nikola Vucevic returned after missing a couple of weeks with an ankle sprain. Al-Farouq Aminu, however, recently suffered a setback in his recovery from a torn meniscus. The Magic are still 4 games under .500 amid a slow start, but they’re actually currently occupying the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Magic own a game-and-a-half cushion over the Hornets and a 2-game lead over the Bulls and Pistons.
The Magic and 76ers will both win plenty of games thanks to their defenses. The Sixers enter play Friday ranked seventh in the league in defensive rating, allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions. The Magic are 13th in the same category (105.1), but I wouldn’t be surprised if Orlando improved in that area as the season progressed. The Magic finished eighth in D-rating last year, and they were the best defense in the league from January until the end of the season.
Embiid and Vucevic are two of the game’s best defensive centers. Embiid ranks second in the league in defensive real plus-minus among centers, while Vucevic is 21st. Vuc would be higher if he hadn’t missed so much time to injury, however. Vucevic ranked seventh in this category last season.
Having a quality defensive center is the anchor to any strong defensive team. Look no further than Rudy Gobert in Utah or Marc Gasol in Toronto. Any time you have a player patrolling the paint that can impact an entire team’s offensive philosophy, you’re going to be a tough out come playoff time. That’s the goal for both Orlando and Philadelphia.
This will be the second meeting of the season between the teams. Orlando came away with a dominant 112-97 win at the expense of Philly back on November 13, but the Sixers were playing without Embiid. The Sixers shot just 8-30 (26.7 percent) from beyond the arc against what was a suffocating Magic defense. Vucevic feasted without Embiid in the lineup, finishing with 25 points and 12 rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
The Sixers have seen their offensive output improve as the season has progressed. They’re up to 11th in the league in offensive efficiency after spending most of the first 2 months of the season down near the bottom-10 in that department. The Magic, however, are just 25th. Orlando is mustering just 103.1 points per 100 possessions, which puts them around awful teams like the Kings, Warriors, Cavaliers and Knicks.
The Magic were just 21st in the same category last season, so it’s not as if their offensive woes are a new concern. Vucevic is fantastic, but the team still lacks a go-to secondary scorer. Terrence Ross tends to run hot-and-cold off the bench. Evan Fournier will pop up every now and again, but he hasn’t quite developed the way they might have hoped. You can say the same for Aaron Gordon, who pretty clearly needs to find a new home at this point.
The Orlando Magic’s best hope at developing a second fiddle next to Vucevic is either Jonathan Isaac or Markelle Fultz. Both have made strides this season following middling starts to their respective careers. Isaac is a 2-way menace that can already guard several different positions, but his offense has been a slower burn. Fultz, who started his career with a couple of disastrously weird seasons in Philadelphia,
Fultz has looked a little better this season, but he’s still only shooting 25.5 percent from long range. Until that becomes a reliable part of his game, he’s always going to struggle to live up to the expectations that come with being a No. 1 overall pick.
Orlando is a decent team capable of mucking things up thanks to their strong defense, but the Sixers have enough firepower to where they should be able to win this game. The spread looks suspiciously small to me. There were some question marks regarding the availability of Embiid, but he is expected to suit up tonight. So, Philadelphia should have its full complement of starters available for this one.
If that’s the case, I think a 3-point spread is too small. We know the 76ers aren’t the most consistent team in the world, but if they’re at their best I don’t think the Magic have enough offense to realistically keep up with them. I think you can take advantage of the small number here.
Confidently bet on Philadelphia to win and cover the 3-point spread on Friday night.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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