3 observations after Sixers score season-high 133, blow out the Magic

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For the first time this season, the Sixers have improved to two games over .500.

They reached that mark Sunday night with an almost-never-in-doubt, comprehensive victory in Orlando. The team swept its weekend mini-series at Amway Center with a 133-103 win.

Shake Milton certainly did not fall back to earth the game after he came one rebound away from a triple-double. He had a season-high 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting, seven assists and five rebounds. 

Tobias Harris was also very good again, recording 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting, five assists, five rebounds and two steals.

Six Magic players sat out Sunday's contest with injuries. Orlando also ruled out Mo Bamba (back spasms) and Terrence Ross (illness) early in the third quarter. 

For the third straight game, the 11-9 Sixers were down five players in Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and Jaden Springer. P.J. Tucker exited with left ankle soreness (more on that below). 

The Sixers will play the Hawks on Monday night in Philadelphia before going on another three-game road trip. Here are observations on their blowout win Sunday: 

Melton’s game-changing tools

At one stage very early in the second quarter, Orlando had made 65.0 percent of its field goals and the Sixers had converted 66.7 percent. Several players had impressive individual moments during that offensively-oriented period. No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero moved to 3 for 3 from the floor when he drained a pull-up jumper over Montrezl Harrell.

Harris started strong, too. While the Sixers moved the ball nicely, Harris also identified the right moments to focus on his own offense. In the half court, he sized up Bol Bol before draining a three-pointer on him. In transition, Harris plowed through a seam in the middle of the floor and drew two free throws.

The Sixers’ offense was initially less smooth once Harris and Milton subbed out, and the team paid for its turnovers late in the first quarter. Paul Reed had two of them, including an off-target pass that led to a Ross fast-break dunk. 

De’Anthony Melton then flipped the game with a sequence it’s hard to imagine any other player duplicating. First, he stunned the 6-foot-10 Banchero, who appeared to think he was all alone for a post-up opportunity against Georges Niang but ultimately got blocked from behind by a guard. After a Reed dunk, Melton then nabbed a steal on the Magic’s next possession and tossed a long-range bounce pass that Danuel House Jr. turned into an and-one dunk. Following House’s free throw, a five-point Sixers deficit was suddenly an even game. 

Orlando never looked likely to win from that point on. Furkan Korkmaz gave the Sixers a 36-32 lead with a three at the first-quarter buzzer. They outscored the Magic by 18 points in a second quarter that featured more excellent Sixers offense while Orlando’s sloppy mistakes and missed jumpers piled up. 

Whether or not one buys into the notion of momentum, Melton tends to make plays that impact both the scoreboard and the broader complexion of the game. He entered Sunday night second in the NBA in both steals per game (2.1) and deflections per game (3.9), and those numbers don’t feel flattering to Melton at all. His streak of games with three or more steals stands at five. 

Another incomplete night for Tucker 

While Tucker prioritizes being available for his team, it wouldn’t be surprising if Monday’s game is the first the 2022-23 Sixers start without him. 

Tucker watched the entire second half Sunday from the bench and House started the third quarter in his place. Minutes later, a Sixers official said Tucker was done for the night because of left ankle soreness. The 37-year-old also missed Friday’s fourth quarter for the same reason, per The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. 

As they’ve demonstrated through their shorthanded success, the Sixers are fully capable of compensating for absent starters. House scored his most points as a Sixer on Sunday, posting 19 on 5-for-8 shooting and drawing 10 foul shots with foot-on-the-gas rim attacks. 

Niang notched nine points and five assists, continuing to display useful craftiness as a driver. Incredibly, Reed and Korkmaz went a combined 12 for 13 from the floor. Reed also had 13 rebounds and did a ton well to offset the occasional loose turnover. Korkmaz went into Harlem Globetrotter mode late in the fourth, throwing a behind-the-back dish to Reed and then sinking a corner three-pointer seconds later. 

The Sixers signed Tucker, who underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee this offseason, largely because they believe he’ll improve their playoff chances. In dealing with regular-season injuries, the team will presumably keep that big picture in mind and be fine trusting its depth a bit more if needed.

Milton and Harris in a zone 

Orlando’s transition defense and general effort level plummeted in the second quarter.

Harris was both aggressive and precise as the Sixers’ lead ballooned. One play we imagine head coach Doc Rivers will enjoy on the film is Harris’ hit-ahead pass for a Milton wing three that put the Sixers up 65-42. Rivers has frequently emphasized those sort of passes being an essential aspect of the Sixers' pace.

Quite a few of Harris and Milton's makes were easier shots than they'll get against opponents who are not young, 5-15, and dealing with a slew of injuries. Still, each has been impressive with the Sixers undermanned, and their production hasn't just been about higher usage. While a combined 54 points on 27 field-goal attempts obviously won't become the norm, both Harris and Milton have usually made smart, poised decisions conducive to efficient play. A 12-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio for the duo Sunday is another reflection of that. 

With a 3-for-6 evening from three-point range, Milton has gone 13 for 25 (52 percent) on long-distance tries over his last five games. Whether or not this stretch leads into a full-blown outside shooting resurgence, the willingness to fire is important and encouraging for him. We'll also note that, playoffs included, Milton went 26 for 59 from three (44.1 percent) over his final 33 games last season. 

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