ORLANDO. – You kind of knew the 76ers would eventually put this game out of reach.
Thursday night’s contest at the Amway Center came against an Orlando Magic squad with two sidelined starters in Evan Fournier (knee) and Jonathon Simmons (wrist). They were also minus two key reserves in Jonathan Isaac (foot) and Terrence Ross (MCL).
Without those four, the Magic had a tough time stopping the Sixers’ transition offense or creating their own. All that led to a 118-98 laugher. The margin of victory could have been wider. The Sixers (41-30) rested their starters late in the third quarter. The win marked the first time since Feb. 13, 2012, that the team has been 11 games above .500.
Their fifth-straight victory has the Eastern Conference’s fourth-place Sixers a game behind the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers with 11 games remaining in the regular season. The top four teams at season’s end get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. That had been Joel Embiid’s goal.
“But, you know, after this game, I kind of have a new goal,” he said. “I kind of want to get to 50 wins.”
Meanwhile, the Magic (21-51) just wants to string together a couple more wins. Orlando has lost three straight games and 15 of its last 18.
The Sixers had a balanced attack against the struggling and undermanned Magic.
Joel Embiid had 17 points and nine rebounds to go with three assists, one steal, and one block in 20 minutes, 10 seconds. Dario Saric and Ben Simmons also had double-doubles.
Saric had 10 points and 10 rebounds, while Simmons finished with six points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, three assists, one block ,and four turnovers. The Sixers other starters — Robert Covington (15 points) and JJ Redick (12) — scored in double-figures. So did reserves Ersan Ilyasova (18) and Marco Belinelli (15).
Rookie swingman Furkan Korkmaz made his first appearance since Dec. 10. He was sidelined for 43 games with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. The Turkish player finished with three points on 1-for-5 shooting.
Reserve Rodney Purvis led the Magic with 19 points. Aaron Gordon added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Sixers led by as many as 35 points (95-60) on Belinelli’s three-pointer with 2 minutes, 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
The visitors held a 16-0 advantage in fast-break points in the first half. That number swelled to 27-2 after three quarters and 32-10 for the game.
“I feel like our defense set the stage where we could have … a launching pad to get out and go,” coach Brett Brown said. “It’s hard to run after made-baskets. It’s easier to run after missed baskets.”
Brown said his defense created a lot of missed shots on a night the Magic shot 17.4 percent in the third quarter and 40.7 for the game.
The Sixers also had 19 assists on 26 made-baskets in the first half and 30 on 42 made-baskets for the game.
You had to know this wasn’t the Magic’s night when Embiid made a three-pointer with 16.1 seconds before intermission.
He grabbed the offensive rebound, dribbled the ball to the corner. With his teammates yelling “One shot, one shot,” he released the ball. Then the all-star turned around and ran back on defense before the ball went into the net.
“As soon as I shot it, I knew it was going in,” Embiid said. “I felt like Steph Curry. … That was a good sequence.”
One that he always wanted to do.
“It’s worked out pretty well,” he said.