The Philadelphia 76ers last faced the Orlando Magic when they began the most revealing stretch of the season. Sixers fans like myself liked what we saw on Jan. 30 as they manhandled the imploding Magic for three quarters. But two weeks later, Philadelphia went to Orlando and saw a far more efficient opponent.
The two most decisive losses of the year for the Sixers have come to the Miami Heat, but perhaps their third worst came to Florida's other basketball team on Feb. 15. The Magic jumped all over them this time and then kept blowing them out whenever they got closer, en route to a 103-87 victory.
The Sixers were utterly pathetic in the first several minutes of the game, as the Magic looked ready to blow them out of the water. However, Philadelphia eventually cut the lead back down to single digits, as the team that has blown countless opponents out this season now looked set to avoid the same fate. Yet all of the Sixers' progress was negated in the final minutes of the half, thanks to a few late three-pointers that pushed the Orlando lead back to 16.
But the Sixers struck back and closed to within five points in the third quarter, although they would hit a wall yet again. Each time that Philadelphia looked ready to make this a real game, Orlando put together a run of its own to get comfortable again. It got easier due to an unusually high 14 turnovers from the Sixers, 53 percent shooting from the Magic, 15 Orlando three-pointers and seven from Ryan Anderson alone.
All five Magic starters were in double figures, led by Anderson's 27, as even Dwight Howard's 17 points and 14 rebounds seemed quiet by comparison. For the Sixers, the bench came through again as Lou Williams led the way with 21 points, yet their starters aside from Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand were largely useless.
Defense failed Philadelphia for once, although it doesn't always carry the load against elite teams. Orlando is usually elite, but it visited the Wells Fargo Center two weeks ago during one of its low points. Now that the Magic are 7-2 since that night, they are a much tougher opponent to handle again.
The Sixers kicked them when they were down on Jan. 30, yet facing them in Orlando when they were back on track was a far harder proposition. Perhaps Philadelphia still has a ways to go to handle clubs like that - at least the ones from Florida.
But since the Sixers could well face the Magic again in the playoffs, they'll need to hope Orlando looks more like the Jan. 30 version by then - because the Feb. 15 edition looked fairly unstoppable.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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