Sixers news

Sixers treating Magic matchup as ‘playoff-type game,' honing details with Embiid 

Sixers vs. Magic is a big game in the play-in tournament picture.

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The streaking Sixers may very well have some final-day drama Sunday afternoon.

Before that, they’ve got an important game to handle.

The seventh-seeded Sixers will look for a seventh consecutive victory Friday night when they face the Magic at Wells Fargo Center. Orlando’s lead over the Sixers has dwindled to one game.

“We’re going to certainly give everything we’ve got tomorrow night to get the win,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said Thursday following his team’s practice. “We’re playing it as a playoff-type game for sure, with the mentality of we need to win. 

“But I’m happy with a lot of the growth and the competitive nature with which we’re playing. The execution keeps getting better. All those kinds of things are more what I’m seeing, rather than where are we at in the standings? … We’ve got to try to maximize our potential with this team, make sure we’re heading in the right direction and keep that going.”

Still, the standings undeniably matter a lot these days. The Sixers could finish anywhere between fifth and eighth in the Eastern Conference. A top-six spot is necessary to avoid the NBA's play-in tournament.

“It’s maybe the biggest game of the year right now for us tomorrow,” Nicolas Batum said. “We’re at home. We kind of have everybody back right now. We had a great practice today. You know the crowd’s going to be into it tomorrow, so it can be a good night for everybody.”

While the Sixers aren’t at full health, their injury report has often been more extensive this season.

The team listed Joel Embiid (left knee injury recovery), Kyle Lowry (left knee effusion) and KJ Martin (left great toe contusion) as questionable vs. Orlando. Robert Covington remained out with a left knee injury. 

De’Anthony Melton returned Tuesday after being sidelined by lumbar spine bone stress and played 16 minutes in the Sixers’ win over the Pistons.

“I just talked to him,” Nurse said. “He said he feels ‘fine.’ He’s not doing cartwheels up and down the court today or anything, but he’s fine. I think it’s a bit of a process yet. We’ll throw him out there tomorrow for longer, if we can. 

“We certainly want to get him some extended minutes to see how far we can go with it ... when it gets to time to use him for real.”

Orlando forward Franz Wagner was questionable following two straight absences with a right ankle sprain. 

Wagner and first-time All-Star Paolo Banchero have led the young Magic to their most wins in a season since 2010-11. As of Thursday night, Orlando ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating.

“They’re one of those teams that’s got a little bit of everything,” Nurse said. “First of all, they’ve got a lot of talent. They just keep subbing and you just keep seeing more guys who are long, athletic, young, bouncy, have some game. Obviously the combo of Banchero and Franz, they’re really awesome in that kind of power-wing position they both play. … And they’re using Banchero a lot in everything — like a lot of the superstars get used.

“They set (screens), they post, they bring it (up), they pass. They do everything. … I really like the way (Jalen) Suggs has been playing. I think he’s really been playing good and hard. Cole Anthony’s been playing good as well. They’ve got a lot of guys.”

Independent of opponent, the Sixers are aiming to sharpen their execution as Embiid regains conditioning and rhythm. 

If Embiid plays Friday, it’ll be the superstar big man's fifth game back from his left meniscus injury. On top of the spacing and cutting details that become crucial for the Sixers’ offense with Embiid, Nurse mentioned that Thursday’s practice included work on “a few adjustments defensively.”

“We’ve got a lot of things that change with Joel in there,” he said. “There’s a fairly good list of things that we do differently. So I’m just going through all of them. You can imagine what they are. They’re pick-and-roll coverages, they’re pick-and-pop coverages. They’re driving — who’s protecting the rim and what’s the weak side look like? … Post defense.

“There’s all kinds of different things, and you’ve got to hit every little facet of it. We’re just going through the list.”

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