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Markelle Fultz Drops 13 Points as Magic Stun Joel Embiid, 76ers 98-97

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorDecember 28, 2019

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 27: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic dunks the ball during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on December 27, 2019 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

The Orlando Magic survived a defensive battle and upset the visiting Philadelphia 76ers 98-97 at the Amway Center on Friday.

Nikola Vucevic posted 16 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for the Magic, who had five players score in double digits. Evan Fournier led Orlando with 20 points.

Orlando got it done on defense aside from Philadelphia's game-ending 15-5 run in a 1:29 span.

The 76ers were down 93-82 after an Aaron Gordon dunk, but the 76ers hit five three-pointers down the stretch to pull within 98-97.

Philadelphia even had a chance for the win after Ben Simmons stole Aaron Gordon's inbounds pass with 2.2 seconds left, but Joel Embiid's running three-pointer from way beyond the three-point arc did not connect.

Tobias Harris and Embiid led all scorers with 24 points for the 76ers, who only had 14 points from their reserves.

The 14-17 Magic won their second straight while breaking the 23-11 76ers' three-game win streak.

The game marked Markelle Fultz's second contest against the 76ers since Philadelphia traded him in February 2019. The 76ers drafted him first overall in 2017.

Fultz dropped 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting to go along with six assists.

                         

Notable Performances

76ers PF Tobias Harris: 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists

76ers C Joel Embiid: 24 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists

76ers PG Ben Simmons: 13 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals

Magic C Nikola Vucevic: 16 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists

Magic F Aaron Gordon: 19 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists

Magic G Evan Fournier: 20 points, 6 assists, 2 rebounds

        

Markelle Fultz Solid Against Former Team

Markelle Fultz has found a home in Orlando after one-and-a-half injury-shortened, dramatic seasons in Philadelphia that ended with a trade deadline deal in 2019.

Fultz has now scored in double digits in 17 of his past 19 games after posting 13 points to go along with six assists.

Those stats don't tell the whole story of Fultz's outing.

Philadelphia came out flat and stayed that way for the majority of the game, giving Orlando some hope for an upset.

To Fultz's credit, his energy level was fantastic all evening and far superseded that of the 76ers, who moved slowly and methodically en route to an off-night.

One such example occurred on this backdoor cut behind the 76ers defense, when the point guard read his opponent perfectly for a quick and easy deuce:

NBA @NBA

Off-ball movement gets Markelle Fultz the bucket! @OrlandoMagic 61 @sixers 62 4:51 remaining in the 3Q on @NBATV https://t.co/N9EuNDASBo

Fultz also made the 76ers pay for not guarding him from beyond the three-point arc, hitting a pair of shots from deep:

Orlando Magic @OrlandoMagic

𝐌𝐀𝐑𝐊𝟑𝐋𝐋𝟑 https://t.co/AkpAWTGn20

The 21-year-old only went 4-of-15 from three-point range in 33 regular-season games with the 76ers, but he has 14 for the Magic this season. Granted, Fultz is shooting just 27.4 percent from beyond the arc, but his improved confidence at long-range distances is a welcome sight after earlier struggles.

Ultimately, the Magic don't pull off this upset with Fultz's efforts, which helped keep the Magic in the Eastern Conference's top eight as they look for a second straight playoff appearance.

             

76ers Play Down to Level of Their Opponent...Again

The final score of Friday's game isn't reflective of how poorly the 76ers offense performed for the vast majority of the night.

Philadelphia only had 82 points for the first 46:30 of the game before a flurry of three-pointers made the final result much closer than it actually felt. It was a far cry from the 76ers' performance against the league-best Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day, when the team cruised to a 121-109 win.

Rich Hofmann of The Athletic summed it up best:

Rich Hofmann @rich_hofmann

Beat a bunch of good teams, lose to a bunch of mediocre and bad teams: The 2019-20 Philadelphia 76ers Video Yearbook

Former Memphis Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger and Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice did as well:

John Hollinger @johnhollinger

On the heels of that glorious Christmas game, it would be very on-brand for the Sixers to score 87 points and lose to Orlando.

Kyle Neubeck @KyleNeubeck

The see-saw Sixers strike again. There will be a lot of people who will blame "energy" or something nebulous for that loss, but their offense flat-out stunk https://t.co/fh8iFR86LW

The 76ers scuffled through a classic letdown game Friday, losing to a 14-17 Magic team that may fight just to make the playoffs. Their energy was largely non-existent on offense against Orlando, which entered Friday just 13th in defensive efficiency, per ESPN.com.

Philadelphia is one of the league's most perplexing teams. The 76ers have the talent to beat anyone in the league and proved as much against the Bucks. But they've also lost to the 9-21 Washington Wizards, the 11-19 Phoenix Suns and now the Magic twice.

Somehow, the 76ers also have two wins against the 22-7 Boston Celtics on their ledger, symbolizing the Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of this team.

The good news is that the season isn't even half over, so the 76ers have plenty of time to figure out why they excel against the league's best on some nights and struggle against inferior opponents on others.

Perhaps the 76ers could at least take some solace in their finish and use it towards future games, but head coach Brett Brown isn't having it.

"I don't care about it, I really don't even care about it...physically I thought we responded with a D-," Brown said when asked about the late run.

Philadelphia will visit three teams that are 10 games above .500 or better in the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets, so the 76ers will need far better than a D- response to end the road trip on a high note.

                 

What's Next?

Both teams will play road games Saturday. The 76ers will face the Miami Heat at 8 p.m. ET in AmericanAirlines Arena, and the Magic will visit the Milwaukee Bucks at 8:30 p.m. in Fiserv Forum.