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3 observations after Embid has injury scare, leads Sixers to crucial win over Magic

3 observations after Embid has injury scare, leads Sixers to crucial win over Magic originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Make that seven wins in a row for the Sixers with one game to go in the 2023-24 season.

The team notched another crucial victory Friday night at Wells Fargo Center, taking a 125-113 decision over the Magic in the season's penultimate game.

Joel Embiid completed the contest following an injury scare in the second quarter (more on that below) and had 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.

Tyrese Maxey posted 28 points. Kelly Oubre Jr. added 21 points and nine rebounds.

All-Star Orlando forward Paolo Banchero scored 22 points on 7-for-24 shooting, grabbed 15 boards, and dished out seven assists. Franz Wagner tallied 24 points and Jalen Suggs had 20.

The Sixers' victory means their pursuit of a top-six spot in the Eastern Conference (and avoiding the NBA's play-in tournament) will go down to the season’s final day. Both the Sixers and Magic are now 46-35. The Sixers would win a two-team tiebreaker because they swept the regular-season series.

The regular-season finale for the Sixers will be Sunday afternoon vs. the Nets. Here are observations on their win over Orlando:

All-around Embiid excellence 

Embiid had finished two assists shy of a 37-point triple-double Tuesday night when the Sixers beat the Pistons. After Friday’s first quarter, he looked well on his way to a triple-double.

The seven-time All-Star played 12 straight minutes to open the game and posted 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Embiid was at his cunning, aggressive best in terms of drawing fouls. Magic big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Goga Bitadze picked up two apiece in the first quarter. (Carter only played four minutes on the night because of back spasms.)

Embiid granted Bitadze zero chance to settle into the action, demanding the ball against him in the post. After assisting a Tobias Harris layup on a crisp give-and-go, Embiid zipped a skip pass to Oubre in the corner. Oubre sunk his three-pointer and Orlando called timeout with the Sixers up 14-7.

It certainly helped that the Sixers capitalized on most of Embiid’s sharp playmaking. They recorded 18 more points behind the arc than the Magic in the first quarter and stretched their advantage to 40-25 on a Harris triple.

Major injury scare

The score became secondary late in the second quarter when Embiid came up limping after making a driving, and-one layup.

Embiid immediately requested to be subbed out and headed back to the Sixers’ locker room.

With a minute on the clock until the start of the third quarter, Embiid emerged. Thankfully for the Sixers, he was able to get through his sixth game since returning from a left lateral meniscus injury.

Anyone remotely familiar with the Sixers understands that Embiid must remain available for the team to make a deep playoff run. Following Friday’s win, the Sixers are 31-8 this season in Embiid’s appearances and 15-27 without him.

Embiid decided to fire up the Sixers’ first shot of the third quarter and looked just fine, nailing a top-of-the-key three.

The Sixers kept rolling from there. Kyle Lowry built on his strong end to the second period by tossing a long-distance assist to Harris and draining a three, Maxey canned a corner jumper, and the Sixers re-established firm control of the game. They led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter.

Maxey makes sure Sixers hold off Magic  

Counting one Mo Bamba minute in the second quarter, the Sixers used six players off the bench before garbage time.

They got several solid second-unit contributions. Nicolas Batum was a steady sixth man. Buddy Hield hit two three-point shots and, outside of one bad turnover in the backcourt, made decent decisions on both ends.

De’Anthony Melton played just five minutes and didn’t appear in the second half, but he had a few eye-catching moments. The 25-year-old guard swiped two steals and knocked down a long triple late in the shot clock. We’ll see whether he’s able to stay healthy in his latest push to return from a lumbar spine injury.

Predictably, the Sixers couldn't polish off a smooth win against a tough Magic squad. A Wagner fast-break layup trimmed their advantage to 104-97 early in the fourth quarter.

Following a timeout by Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, Maxey scored a couple of critical buckets. Harris, who played sturdy defense throughout the night on Banchero, also converted a put-back layup.

The Sixers' half-court execution wasn't the cleanest late in the fourth, but Maxey continued to produce timely offense and the team scrapped hard to hold off any threat of an Orlando comeback.