Magic jump on top early, hold on late to beat 76ers
Neither the Orlando Magic nor the Philadelphia 76erswere represented in the NBA All-Star Game two weeks ago. But based on the way they defended each other Sunday night, they must have been watching.
Rookie Mario Hezonja dunked four seconds into his first NBA start and the Magic scored at will throughout most of the game, shooting 57 percent and handing the 76ers their eighth straight loss, 130-116.
Nik Vucevic and Victor Oladipo scored 28 points each and Aaron Gordon added a career-high 22 for the Magic, who saw a 29-point lead reduced to eight by a flurry of open jumpers and alley-oop dunks authored by the league’s most offensively challenged team.
“Neither team seemed very interested on the defensive end, that’s for sure,” said Magic coach Scott Skiles. “They beat us in the second half, but our lead was big enough that we had a cushion.”
Jahlil Okafor scored 26 points for the 76ers, who scored 58 points in the paint and 65 in the second half.
“We gave them a lot of easy baskets with bad turnovers,” said Oladipo. “We’ve got to do a better job playing with a lead.”
Starting in place of injured forward Evan Fournier, Hezonja’s game-opening baskets got the Magic off to an 11-0 start and they shot 65 percent (30-for-46) in dominating the first half.
“No team should be able to score 77 points in a half, especially a team we think we can beat,” said Sixers forward Jerami Grant.
Oladipo, Vucevic and Gordon all reached double figures in a 40-point first quarter, Orlando’s highest-scoring quarter of the season. The Magic followed that with their most productive second quarter of the season (36 points) during which Gordon hit a couple of 3-pointers on a 21-4 run that pushed their lead to 70-41.
But Okafor had a big second half, and Ish Smith’s penetrating and passing helped the 76ers come back with a 36-point third quarter. When Okafor made a free throw after Vucevic fouled out with 3:46 remaining, Orlando’s lead was only eight.
Elfrid Payton clinched the win for the Magic, scoring their next seven points and setting up Gordon for a dunk on his 10th assist of the game.
Vucevic accomplished his 28 points in only 27 1/2 minutes, having missed most of the third quarter after taking an elbow to the jaw.
“Vucevic had his way with us in the first half. He’s a good player, but we had no answer for him,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “Tonight we didn’t do our job in the first half and that’s unacceptable.”
76ers: G-F Hollis Thompson missed the game with flu-like symptoms. … This is the seventh losing streak of eight or more games in the last three seasons. … Opponents have averaged 118.9 points in the Sixers’ last seven games.
Magic: Fournier, the only Magic player to play in each of the first 57 games, was out with a sore right wrist. … With 26 games left, the Magic clinched their best season since 2011-12 with their 26th victory.