ORLANDO – Perhaps the 76ers’ season-ending stretch isn’t as easy as first thought.
Two nights after losing to the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks, the Sixers suffered another setback on Monday.
This time, it came by the hands of the Orlando Magic in a 119-98 rout at the Amway Center.
The loss dropped the Eastern Conference’s third-place team to 47-27 with eight games remaining. They are clinging to a two-game lead over the fourth-place Indiana Pacers (45-29).
Meanwhile, the Magic improved to 36-38, as the teams concluded their four-game season series at 2-2.
The Sixers were without Ben Simmons (stomach virus) and reserve James Ennis III (right quad contusion). They would have made a difference, but it’s hard to say how much. Philly is in a funk right now.
This is not how the Sixers expected to head into the postseason. The hope was to gain momentum during what was regarded as one of the NBA’s easiest final 10-game stretches.
“We’ve got to get some wins, man,” T.J. McConnell said. "We can’t put that [trash] product out there.
“We just got to be better than that. It’s simple as that. It was a putrid effort for a team fighting to be a three seed.”
Instead, they failed to make a basket in 11 minutes, 42 seconds at one point in the second half. Shake Milton scored a basket with 4:32 left in the third quarter to pull the Sixers within one point (78-77). Their next basket came on a Zhaire Smith three-pointer with 4:50 left to play in the fourth.
That basket was perhaps the team’s lone second-half bright spot. It marked the first shot attempt in the first game action of the rookie’s career. He’s been sidelined most of the season due to a broken bone in his foot and later an allergic reaction to food.
“A lot of congratulations and then they tell me to get the towel!” Smith said of his teammates’ reaction to his three-pointer.
But the Sixers missed 15 consecutive shots before Smith’s baskets.
“Some of it, I give credit to their defense. I really do," coach Brett Brown said. “After the All-Star break, this team has really done a great job of guarding.”
In addition to the drought, the Sixers struggled on defense for the second consecutive game. They were terrible against the pick-and-roll, which led to poor rotations and open three-pointers.
“Once again, we didn’t take anything away from them,” Jimmy Butler said. “They got to the rim. We didn’t get back. They got threes, layups, free throws. Not a good game.”
All-Star Nik Vucecvic, a former Sixer, finished with a game high of 28 points and 11 rebounds for his 54th double-double of the season. Evan Fournier added 24 points. Former Sixer Michael Carter-Williams added 15 points and 6 rebounds off the bench on the day he signed his second 10-day contract.
The Magic had a commanding 91-77 lead on Fournier’s layup with 11:18 remaining. That capped a game-changing 13-0 run by Orlando. Carter-Williams had six points during that run.
Orlando went on to build a 106-82 advantage on Aaron Gordon’s three-pointer with 5:37 to play.
Joel Embiid paced the Sixers with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 turnovers. The two-time All-Star center refused to speak to the media following the game. Tobias Harris added 15 points. Butler had 13 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block and 2 turnovers.
This matchup was sort of a homecoming for five Sixers.
Redick, Harris and Jonathon Simmons all had stints with the Orlando Magic. Meanwhile, Simmons and Embiid played at Montverde Academy, which is around 34 minutes from the city. Embiid, however, spent just one season at Montverde, transferring to The Rock School in Gainesville, Fla.
This marked Jonathon Simmons’ first time back in Orlando since the Sixers acquired him and a protected 2020 first-round pick and a 2019 second-round selection for Markelle Fultz. Fultz, the 2017 first overall pick, will not play for the Magic this season.
Orlando coach Steve Clifford raved over the 2014 rookie of the year before the tilt with the Sixers.
“He’s very bright,” Clifford said of Carter-Williams. “He learns quickly. He’s a terrific defender, communicator. In that position, where he’s at right now [on a 10-day deal], being smart is everything. ... You have confidence if he has to play, he’d play well."