KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Friday night was a ready, aim, fire, and figure it out moment for the 76ers.
The team faced the Orlando Magic at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. It was the Sixers’ first game since announcing Thursday that Ben Simmons is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a temporary partial dislocation of his left kneecap.
“You coach who you have, and I do genuinely believe this can galvanize our group,” coach Brett Brown said before the game.
The Sixers learned that they may be able to lean on Al Horford and reserve point guard Alec Burks after a 108-101 victory.
The Sixers’ winning streak extends to three games and they improved to 42-27. They remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a game out of fourth place with four seeding games remaining.
Burks finished with 22 points while thriving in the pick-and-roll during 27 minutes, 31 seconds of action. He played so well, that Brown extended his spurts while not bringing Shake Milton back in his normal rotation pattern.
“I thought he was really was excellent,” Brown said. “You get into the paint at times, and just play bully ball, and [he] has the ability to create his own shot.”
Not bad considering the Sixers acquired Burks and Glenn Robinson III via a trade with the Golden State Warriors to provide much-needed shooting and scoring off the bench.
But Burks has recently proven that he can do much while running the offense as the backup point guard.
“My skill set adjusts well to it,” he said. “I play great in the pick-and-roll, and I read the defense and find [teammates] over people. I’m fine with that and help the team any way I can.”
Horford, starting in place of Simmons, finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block.
“You can’t help but feel an emerging Al Horford,” Brown said. “It’s clear he understands that we need him more than we ever have needed him .... Look at what Alec Burks did today.”
The coach also cited the defense of Matisse Thybulle and Josh Richardson on Terrence Ross. He failed to score a point on 0-for-10 shooting as the Magic dropped to 32-37.
Tobias Harris had 23 points for the Sixers, a game-high 15 rebounds, and 4 assists. Nineteen of his points came after intermission. It was his seventh 20-point, 10-rebound performance of the season.
Joel Embiid scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half. He also finished with 13 rebounds.
Reserve guard Furkan Korkmaz sprained a finger on his left hand in the third quarter. He was available to play but didn’t have his number called.
Evan Fournier led the Magic with 22 points, while former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 21 points and 12 rebounds. James Ennis had 14 points and 9 rebounds in his first game against the Sixers since they traded him to Orlando in February.
Another former Sixer, Markelle Fultz, had 13 points off the bench.
This game was about the Sixers giving us a glimpse of what they will look like without Simmons.
Horford was joined in the lineup with normal starters Harris, Embiid, Richardson, and Milton.
Korkmaz was the first player off the bench, subbing in for Embiid with 6 minutes, 56 seconds left in the first quarter. Horford moved to center.
At the 3:25 mark, the Sixers took out Horford, Milton, Harris, and Richardson and replaced them with Thybulle, Embiid, Burks, and Mike Scott.
This marked Scott’s first appearance of the restart. The reserve power forward had missed the first three games with right knee soreness. His return was perfectly timed for the Sixers, who need depth with Simmons sidelined.
But the Sixers were far from dominating.
They trailed 50-48 at intermission after shooting 38.5% overall and making just 5 of 17 three-pointers in the first two quarters.
In the first half, Embiid was far from the dominant player he was in the first three seeding games. He had six points on 3-for-8 shooting to go with 7 rebounds and 2 turnovers while appearing lethargic.
Hall of Famer and Sixers great Charles Barkley, a TNT analyst, said Embiid was an All-Star, not a superstar. The Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green said that every time Embiid takes a jump shot he’s bailing out defenders.
The three-time All-Star scored 12 points in the third quarter while making 3 of 6 shots, but the Sixers still trailed by two points (79-77) going into the fourth quarter.
“Joel set the tone,” Brown said.
The Sixers scored the first nine points to take an 86-79 lead 1:58 into the final quarter.
Harris got things started with a jumper, followed by a pair of foul shots from Embiid, a layup by Thybulle and a three-point play by Harris. They went on to take the seven-point victory.