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Three observations after Embid injury scare leads Sixers to crucial win over Magic

Three observations after Embid injury scare lead Sixers to crucial win over Magic originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Make it seven straight wins for the Sixers with one game remaining in the 2023-24 season.

The team recorded another crucial victory on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center, taking a 125-113 decision over the Magic in the penultimate game of the season.

Joel Embiid completed the game after suffering an injury in the second quarter (more on that below) and had 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.

Tyrese Maxey scored 28 points. Kelly Oubre Jr. added 21 points and nine rebounds.

All-Star Orlando forward Paolo Banchero scored 22 points on 7-for-24 shooting, grabbed 15 boards and dished out seven assists. Franz Wagner scored 24 points and Jalen Suggs had 20.

The Sixers’ victory means their pursuit of a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference (and avoiding the NBA’s play-in tournament) will continue until the final day of the season. Both the Sixers and Magic are now 46-35. The Sixers must win again on Sunday afternoon vs. the Nets to stay out of the play-in.

In the event that happens, a Magic loss to the Bucks or a Pacers loss to the Hawks would put the Sixers in the top six. If the Sixers, Orlando and Indiana all won, the Sixers would finish third in that third tiebreaker and remain at No. 7.

Here are observations about the Sixers’ win Friday night over Orlando:

Overall excellence from Embiid

Embiid had two assists for a 37-point triple-double on Tuesday night as the Sixers defeated the Pistons. After Friday’s first quarter, he seemed well on his way to a triple-double.

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The seven-time All-Star played 12 straight minutes to open the game and recorded 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Embiid was at his crafty, aggressive best when it came to making mistakes. Magic big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Goga Bitadze each took two in the first quarter. (Carter played only four minutes that night due to back spasms.)

Embiid gave Bitadze zero chance to get into the action and demanded the ball against him in the post. After assisting a Tobias Harris layup on a crisp give-and-go, Embiid zipped a skip pass to Oubre in the corner. Oubre sank his 3-pointer and Orlando called a timeout with the Sixers up 14-7.

It certainly helped that the Sixers benefited from most of Embiid’s sharp playmaking. They scored 18 more points behind the arc than the Magic in the first quarter and extended their lead to 40-25 on a Harris triple.

Great fear of injury

The scoring turned secondary late in the second quarter when Embiid limped up on a drive-and-one layup.

Embiid immediately requested an ejection and headed back to the Sixers’ locker room.

With a minute left until the start of the third quarter, Embiid emerged. Luckily for the Sixers, he was able to get through his sixth game since returning from a left lateral meniscus injury.

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“They assessed him at halftime,” Sixers head coach Nick Nurse said. “No swelling, no damage, nothing like that. … He wanted to try the second half. And it was okay. Now, just like we do every game with everyone, we have to make sure we reassess it tomorrow morning and see what happens. But you saw him; he looked good.”

Anyone remotely familiar with the Sixers understands that Embiid must remain available for the team to make a deep playoff run. After Friday’s win, the Sixers are 31-8 in Embiid’s games this season and 15-27 without him.

Embiid decided to fire the Sixers’ first shot of the third quarter and looked great, hitting a top-of-the-key three.

From there, the Sixers kept rolling. Kyle Lowry built on his strong finish to the second period by throwing a long-range assist to Harris and draining a three, Maxey hit a corner jumper and the Sixers regained solid control of the game. In the third quarter they led by as many as 17 points.

Maxey makes sure Sixers hold off Magic

With one Mo Bamba minute in the second quarter, the Sixers used six players off the bench before it was time to rumble.

They got several solid contributions from the second unit. Nicolas Batum was a regular sixth man. Buddy Hield hit two three-point shots and, other than a bad turnover in the backcourt, made decent decisions on both ends.

De’Anthony Melton played only five minutes and did not play in the second half, but did have some notable moments. The 25-year-old guard made two steals and knocked down a long triple late in the shot clock. We’ll see if he can stay healthy in his latest attempt to return from a lumbar spine injury.

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“I thought he looked good physically,” Nurse said of Melton. “Again, I just got kind of a 10-man rotation. … We even tried to sneak Mo in there because we thought he might have a better match. I thought Kelly played so well, Tyrese played so well.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get him in there. I would certainly like to sit here and say that Melt got another 15 minutes tonight as we planned, but it just didn’t happen tonight. But I thought he looked good and moved well. Hopefully we’ll give him a chance on Sunday.”

Predictably, the Sixers couldn’t pull off an easy win against a tough Magic squad. A quick layup by Wagner cut their lead to 104-97 early in the fourth quarter.

After a Nurse timeout, Maxey scored a pair of critical buckets. Harris, who played tough defense on Banchero all night, also converted a put-back layup.

The Sixers’ half-court execution wasn’t the cleanest late in the fourth, but Maxey continued to attack in time and the team bounced back hard to stave off any threat of an Orlando comeback.

Maxey scored 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the final period.

“(Embiid) being gone was obviously bad, but it was a blessing in disguise,” Maxey said. “It has made me mature a bit and grow into this role. … We know the moments when I have to get the ball and I can be aggressive. We worked on that every day and it was great.”

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