ORLANDO – The 76ers did what they do best: Play to the level of their opponent.
Two days after a thrilling Christmas Day victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Sixers suffered another bad loss. This time it was a 98-97 defeat Friday night to the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center.
The Sixers have now lost four straight and 23 of their last 30 meetings to the Magic in Orlando. The setback also dropped them to 23-11 overall and 7-9 on the road.
Coach Brett Brown said it is concerning that the Sixers keep playing to the level of their opponents.
So what’s the cause?
“You tell me,” the coach responded. "I don’t know. That’s something that we have to figure out. It’s part of our journey. They are good people. They are high-character people.
“We will together dig in and figure it out.”
They nearly battled back from an 11-point deficit. Ben Simmons stole an inbounds pass with 2.2 seconds left. Joel Embiid got the ball and dribbled up the court before misfiring on a 27-foot three-pointer as time expired.
“I’m looking at the time, and just trying to get a shot off no matter where I was. So I mean, I didn’t make it. So it doesn’t matter.
The Sixers closed out the game on a 15-5 run.
“I think there’s a tone set that we wait too long to raise the bar against certain teams like tonight,” Simmons said, “and we lose games like this.”
Embiid finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and four turnovers. Tobias Harris also had 24 points and 11 rebounds to go with two turnovers. Josh Richardson had 15 points, while Simmons added 13 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Meanwhile, the Magic (14-17) won their second straight game after losing six of seven contests.
The Sixers’ inconsistency is kind of mind blowing.
They have bad road losses to losing teams like the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards and now twice to the Magic this season.
However, the Sixers are 4-1 overall against the Eastern Conference’s top three teams, the Bucks (1-0), the Boston Celtics (2-0) and the Miami Heat (1-1). The Heat will host the Sixers on Saturday.
After trailing by double digits, Embiid’s three-pointer closed the gap to three points (97-94) with 24.8 seconds left.
The Sixers put their former guard, Markelle Fultz, on the line and he responded by missing both foul shots with 23.2 seconds left. Philly called a timeout to set up a possible game-tying play.
However, Evan Fournier stole the inbounds pass and was fouled by Harris. The Magic guard made one of his two foul shots to put Orlando up four with 19.1 seconds left.
Embiid’s three-pointer with 5.1 seconds left made it a 98-97 game. Then he went on to miss the potential game-winner.
The Sixers were obviously frustrated after the loss. But they had no one to blame but themselves. Their offensive execution, energy and defense were subpar.
“I mean you got to go out every single night and compete,” Embiid said.
Brown thinks the squad didn’t respond to Orlando’s physicality.
“I think that we got shoved around,” he said.
He couldn’t have cared less about their comeback. He said they shouldn’t have been in that position.
“We just didn’t handle our business tonight," Harris said. "We didn’t play to the level that we know we can play at. We didn’t play at the level we played that last game [versus Milwaukee].
"We just coasted into this game thinking it was going to be handed to us, and it wasn’t.”
Rookie Matisse Thybulle is with the Sixers on their three-game road trip. The reserve guard suffered a sprained right knee and bone bruise on Dec. 21 against Washington. He’s sidelined for two to four weeks. Thybulle did some light shooting on Friday after the Sixers’ shootaround at Freedom High School.
The Magic were without reserves Al-Farouq Aminu (torn right meniscus), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left shoulder) and Mo Bamba (sprained right ankle).