The 76ers did their best to downplay it.
They’ll tell you the goal heading into Saturday night’s matchup against the Orlando Magic was to play a complete game. But one could argue “complete game” was the code for not having a letdown against the lowly Orlando Magic.
There was no letdown as the Sixers beat the Magic, 116-105, in front of a sellout crowd of 20,594 at Wells Fargo Center.
The Sixers improved to 32-25 and extended their overall winning streak to seven games. It also marked their 12th consecutive victory at the Wells Fargo Center. It was a must-win game for a squad that aspires to secure a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Sixers are seventh in the conference with 25 games remaining.
The Sixers begin a three-game road trip against Eastern Conference teams in playoff position, starting Sunday night against the Washington Wizards (fourth) at Capital One Arena, then the Miami Heat (eighth) on Tuesday at American Airlines Arena before capping the trip against the Cleveland Cavaliers (third) on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.
So not having a letdown against the Magic (18-41), losers of five straight, was very important.
But Brett Brown referred to it as just another game.
“I can inflate the importance in my mind of every game,” the coach said.
He wants the Sixers to stay steady in relation to what matters the most. For him, it’s execution on defense, working on their screen setting, how they’re going to score, and spacing around Joel Embiid.
“To come in and declare this is the Orlando game and tomorrow is going to be the Washington game, they really all matter,” Brown said. “In my mind, it’s trying to take that approach in our remaining games, so that we can become hardened.”
But Ben Simmons has plans for the road trip. Like Brown, he’s treating it just like the Sixers are playing cellar dwellers, not postseason contenders.
“I don’t want to lose one game,” he said. “I believe we can do it. Every game is important. We know that. The way we are playing now, we are kind of finding who we are.”
The Sixers are a long, athletic team, headlined by Embiid and Simmons.
On this night, Embiid was his usual dominant self.
The all-star center finished with game highs of 28 points and 14 rebounds to go with one block and zero turnovers for his 30th double-double of the season. He’s one of 10 NBA players with at least 30 double-doubles on the season. Embiid even had fun, giving Shelvin Mack the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag after blocking his shot.
Simmons added 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with a team-high seven assists and four rebounds. JJ Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting in a game where all five Sixer starters scored in double figures.
Reserve guard Marco Belinelli erased memories of Thursday’s subpar performance with 15 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
Richaun Holmes out in a rare appearance at backup center in place of Amir Johnson. He finished with four points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block in 21 minutes, 3 seconds. Johnson did not see action.
Holmes learned a couple of days ago that he would play against the Magic.
“That’s just an example of trying to keep somebody alive,” Brown said of Holmes, who has now appeared in 29 of 57 games. “We understand there will be times that we will need him. When we play him, we see what he brings to the table.”
As a team, the Sixers shot 51.9 percent from the field. They improved to 12-2 when shooting at least 50 percent.
They built a commanding 23-point lead (56-33) on Simmons’ dunk with 2:19 remaining in the first half.
Aaron Gordon led the Magic with 20 points.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was the ceremonial bell ringer prior to the game. … Orlando coach Frank Vogel, a Wildwood, N.J. native, wore an Eagles Super Bowl sweatshirt during his pregame presser.