The Philadelphia 76ers are two games into their regular season, and though it’s still early, the road to winning the East is going to be tough.
The Sixers showed they’re still behind the Boston Celtics on opening night, with Boston’s offense showing improvement. Philly then grabbed a home-opening win against the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, but Zach LaVine and company showed promise on offense as they scored 41 points in the first quarter.
On Saturday, the Sixers will play at home at 7:30 p.m. against the Orlando Magic, a young team with length and size to spare. Let’s break down the keys to victory for Philly in this matchup.
Joel Embiid must be dominant again to start game
Joel Embiid scored 12 of the Sixers’ first 16 points to start Thursday’s game against the Bulls. He primarily operated inside and got easy buckets in the post. Embiid finished the game with 30 points and 12 rebounds.
That’s what the Sixers will need him to do for the offense to be at its best. Embiid scored 23 points against the Celtics, but he shot 42.8 percent from the field. He also shot 1-4 from 3-point range, struggling from deep like the entire roster did.
Embiid can hit open 3-pointers, but he shouldn’t be taking four a game; his career 3-point average is 32.3 percent.
The start Embiid had against the Bulls was a model for how he should play this year. The Sixers don’t have a plethora of outside shooting, and it’s been difficult for them so far to find quality open 3-pointers at times. Through two games, the Sixers are shooting 27.4 percent from outside.
With the season in its early stages, Embiid needs to be the fulcrum for an offense that is still developing.
Ben Simmons must pressure Magic’s interior defense
Ben Simmons’ best strength on offense is his ability to get to the rim and finish inside. With the Orlando Magic boasting quality rim protection, Simmons must use his ability to drive and make the Magic defense collapse.
Through two games, Orlando has averaged seven blocks per game. Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross lead the team with two blocks per game each, and rookie Mo Bamba is averaging 1.5 blocks. Bamba will be out for Saturday’s game with a bruised wrist injury, per reports from Magic team reporter Mackenzie Thirkill. NOTE: The original report was incorrect, as Bamba played Saturday against the Sixers.
If Simmons can drive to the rim and put pressure on the Magic’s interior defense, then the Sixers’ spacing on offense could improve. Shooters such as JJ Redick, Landry Shamet or Robert Covington could see more open shots.
The key, however, will be for them to make those shots. Simmons is good at getting into the lane and finding open teammates, but the Sixers haven’t shot well to begin this season.
Turn up the defense, get out on the break
Philly didn’t have a solid start on defense against the Bulls, particularly when it came to defending the 3-point line. The Bulls shot 5-9 from beyond the arc in the first quarter.
Fortunately, hte Magic have shot 23.2 percent from 3-point range in two games, so perhaps the Sixers won’t have a hard time guarding the arc Saturday night.
Still, through these first two games, the team has played better in the open floor compared to half court. They’re tied for sixth in the league with the Toronto Raptors for fast break points per game (18.0).
Starting a fast break usually requires first playing solid defense, so the Sixers will need to force turnovers and bad shots against the Magic. Over Orlando’s first two games, they’ve have committed 15.0 turnovers per game.