Sixers Storm Back Against Magic, Win in Overtime

CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 06: Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) shoots the ball over Chicago Bulls Center Nikola Vucevic (9) during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls on February 6, 2022 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire)

After another disappointing start to the game, Joel Embiid and the Sixers stormed back to overtake the Orlando Magic in overtime.

It was a slow start in Orlando for the Philadelphia 76ers as they fell into an early hole against Wendell Carter Jr. and the Magic. Not much fell Philly’s way early on; however, a 13 point third-quarter by Joel Embiid sparked some life into the Sixers’ offense.

The game was much more difficult for Philadelphia than anyone could have predicted, and while “a win is a win,” one can’t help but feel the team did themselves a disservice tonight. This is especially the case considering the team is back at it again tomorrow against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets.

With that being said, there are a couple key takeaways from tonight’s game that apply to not only the remainder of the regular season but the postseason as well:

The Sixers Live and Die by the Whistle

It’s not exactly news that both Joel Embiid and James Harden like to work their way to the line as they rank first and fourth respectively in free-throw attempts per game. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with drawing contact, it’s become evident that the two Sixers stars — Harden in particular — do so to a fault.

Philadelphia’s offensive gameplan seems value trips to the free-throw line over getting into an offensive rhythm. While that style of play can lead to dominant games, if the whistle isn’t blowing your way, it can devastate a team’s offensive flow. This was seen very clearly against the Brooklyn Nets this past Thursday.

While the Sixers may be content living and dying by the whistle, they certainly shouldn’t be as the team is capable of so much more.

There needs to be a “Plan B”

On nights when calls do go the way desired, there will need to be a secondary strategy if Philadelphia hopes to make any noise in the playoffs. What could this “Plan B” entail? Well, the pick-and-roll/pop comes to mind. Somethings that Joel Embiid and James Harden ran very well together over their first five games, the Sixers have abandoned it in favor of the very out-of-style “iso-ball.”

While it’s certainly a blessing that the Sixers boast two strong “iso” players — They’ll need that talent come the postseason — it’s better suited as a secondary/end of gameplay style. The amount of isolation the Sixers have played lately has also contributed to the offense failing to find its rhythm; the return of the pick-and-roll/pop could solve that.

Not only is it a fantastic way to feature both James Harden and Joel Embiid in the offense, but it creates opportunities for others in the Sixers’ offense, especially when considering Harden’s acumen as a passer. To say that the pick-and-roll/pop game should be a “Plan B” is not even accurate; it should be the focal point of the team’s offense.

Time will tell if Head Coach Doc Rivers and the team are able to adjust, but for now, they face a quick turnaround time as they travel back to Philly to face Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets tonight at 7:30 PM EST.

It would not be surprising to see one of, or both of, James Harden and Joel Embiid sit tonight after combining for 85 minutes against the Magic but considering Embiid’s precarious position as front-runner for NBA MVP, it’s likely he will play through the exhaustion to face off against the league’s reigning MVP in Jokic.

Assuming at least one of Harden or Embiid plays, expect the game to still be filled with palpable excitement. Until then, the Sixers are the second seed in the Eastern Conference with 16 games remaining.