ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—The Orlando Magic are in an unfamiliar position in the standings: first place.
The margin over the Miami Heat for Southeast Division supremacy may be just percentage points, but it’s a chasm between this year and last season’s 61-loss disaster.
Last season’s Orlando team rarely rallied from 10 points down in the third quarter, and from three back in crunch time. But it’s happening now.
“Forget about us in first place,” Hill said. “Just to have a winning record and be playing good basketball, coming off last year, is definitely a positive.”
Still, the Magic aren’t letting an 8-4 record, and four wins in five games, go to their heads.
“Tell me we’re in first in April,” said Steve Francis, who scored 15 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. “Tell me that in April and I’ll jump on it. But it’s early.”
Francis had six points in the last 48 seconds. His jumper put the Magic up 101-97, but Allen Iverson followed with a driving layup. Francis answered with a jumper, and hit a pair of free throws with 12 seconds remaining to seal the win.
The Sixers scored eight unanswered points to pull ahead 97-94 with 2:27 remaining. Iverson started the run with a 3-pointer and capped it with an assist on Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer.
Iverson finished with 27 points and 10 assists for his third straight double-double. Defended for much of the night by Jameer Nelson—the consensus college player of the year at Saint Joseph’s last season—Iverson shot just 7-for-25 against his fellow Philadelphia hoops sensation.
“He competes to the highest level but I’m ready for any challenge,” said Nelson, who had eight points and six assists. “I keep telling people I’m playing Steve Francis every day, so why can’t I play against any other guard in the league?”
Added Francis: “Jameer did a great job. That’s a good test for a rookie to come in and play against a one-time league MVP, All-Star, scoring champ.”
Iverson, following his 3-pointer with 4:11 to play, missed three of his final four shots. He also committed two of his three turnovers in the final 1:33.
“We had the game. This is a game we could’ve won,” Iverson said. “We just didn’t do the things we needed to do to get it done. We didn’t get stops when we needed to, and I had a lot to do with that on both ends.”
Added Sixers coach Jim O’Brien: “He’s a guy that needs to force the issue with us—that’s the way we win basketball games. It generally works out well for us. It just didn’t tonight.”
After Francis made a free throw with 2:08 to go, cutting the deficit to two, Hill sank baseline jumpers on consecutive possessions, sparking the game-ending 11-2 run.
Hill was 10-of-21 from the field and made all nine foul shots. Francis was 7-for-15 and 10-of-11 from the line as the Magic shot 31-for-36. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Sixers have lost four straight on the road, and opened a five-game road trip after playing eight of their first 12 at home.
Orlando trailed by 10 early in the second half, but rallied when its defense began feeding its offense. Powered by three blocks in a 33-second span, the Magic went on a 15-2 run and took a 79-75 lead.
“We started to not allow them second-chance shots, which ignited us in transition,” Orlando coach Johnny Davis said. “Then we started making plays in the half-court set, started setting good screens and finding the shooters, and they were knocking down shots for us.”
Francis’ four-point play with 7:27 remaining put the Magic ahead 89-84, their largest lead since 38-33 midway through the second quarter.
Orlando guard Cuttino Mobley missed his eighth straight game with a strained groin. … DeShawn Stevenson was hit with a technical for hanging on the rim after a second-quarter dunk. Iverson missed the ensuing free throw. … Due to early foul trouble on Philadelphia’s front line, Brian Skinner saw action for the first time in five games. He had seven points and five rebounds in 12 minutes.