ORLANDO, Fla. – Sunday’s matchup between the Sixers and Magic was between two teams trying – or not trying if you believe NBA Commissioner Adam Silver – to lose enough games so they can win the rights to the No. 1 pick in this June’s NBA draft.
The Magic finished ahead on the scoreboard, 91-82, but there were long stretches throughout the game when it was hard to determine which team wanted it the least (see Instant Replay).
The Sixers laid down the longest, all but disappearing in the fourth quarter when they were outscored, 26-12, by a Magic team that was without its leading scorer, Arron Afflalo, and starting point guard, Jameer Nelson.
In their place came less-than-immortal benchwarmers E’Twaun Moore, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson, who combined for 14 points in the final period on 6 of 9 shooting, putting some spark in an Orlando offense that was punchless to the point.
Thaddeus Young, who finished the game with 29 points, could only get six in the decisive final period as Orlando pushed more of its defense in his direction and his teammates bailed on taking advantage of the open opportunities left to them. The Sixers hit 5 of 18 shots (27.8 percent) and committed six turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The result was a 14th straight loss for the Sixers, but that’s a gain if your goal is to get the No. 1 draft pick.
“We’re still trying to find ways to get ourselves over the hump and this wasn’t one of the nights,” Young said. “We felt in the first and then they got into us defensively in the fourth quarter, and we started turning the ball over. Some of it was miscommunication, misreads, but we can’t have those at crucial moments.”
Michael Carter-Williams, who started the game as though he wanted a leg up on the Magic’s No. 2 overall pick, Victor Oladipo, in the battle for Rookie of the Year honors, might as well have been absent in the fourth period. Carter-Williams, who made his first five shots of the game, missed all four attempts in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over twice.
He finished with eight turnovers for the game. His backups, Tony Wroten and Eric Maynor, had eight more between them.
“Michael came out making an effort to get others involved, but we missed some of his passes and I thought our group by and large struggled and forced things,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “We had 19 turnovers and 16 came from our point guards. Some of that is frustration and some is the realities of the landscape where we’re all new.”
The problems really manifested themselves at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth, when the Sixers found themselves on the wrong end of a 21-4 run. That turned a 67-58 Sixers lead into a 79-71 deficit.
Making things worse, that run was credit the Orlando bench. On the floor during most of that run were Moore, O’Quinn, Nicholson, Ronnie Price and former Sixers draft pick Maurice Harkless. That is not the unit you expect to turn a nine-point deficit and into an eight-point advantage.
The late-game struggles nullified what could have been a turnaround night for the Sixers’ defense, which limited Orlando to just 66 points through the first three quarters and only 92 for the game.
“Anytime you look up and somebody ends the game with 90-something points, that’s a winnable game,” Brown said. “We poked ourselves in the eye with turnovers. Our offense probably hurt us more than our defense. Apart from the youth that we have, there has been a rotating door and there is no familiarity. That can come back to haunt you.”
So will losing 14 games in a row.