Sixers at Magic: Shake Milton nearly notches triple-double in road win

3 observations after Milton nearly notches triple-double, leads Sixers to win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers capitalized Friday night on another excellent Shake Milton performance.

Milton posted a career-high 10 assists in the Sixers' 107-99 win over the Magic at Amway Center. He nearly earned his first NBA triple-double, too, recording 24 points on 7-for-13 shooting and nine rebounds in 42 minutes.

Tobias Harris added 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Orlando's Franz Wagner scored a team-high 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting.

Both teams were well below full strength.

For the Sixers, Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and Jaden Springer remained out with injuries. Orlando was down Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., Jonathan Isaac, Chuma Okeke and Terrence Ross.

The 10-9 Sixers will play the 5-14 Magic again in Orlando on Sunday. Here are observations on Friday's Milton-led victory:

Sixers not overwhelmed by gigantic Magic 

The 7-foot-2 Bol Bol slammed a put-back dunk over Harris for the night’s first basket.

That play hammered home the Sixers’ biggest challenge against a team that started four players at least 6-foot-10. Both Harris and center Montrezl Harrell are 6-7.

The Sixers more than held their own on the glass, finishing with a 13-9 advantage in offensive rebounds. Bol did drain a three-pointer late in the second quarter following an offensive board by Gary Harris (who stands a mere 6-foot-4). He was impressively fluid and skillful during a first half in which he went 7 for 8 from the floor.

Bol couldn’t maintain his level in the second half, and the youthful Magic looked unsettled and uncertain about solutions as their lead disappeared in the third quarter. The preseason vision of the Sixers as a consistently scrappy, intense team who wouldn’t be fun to face has matched the on-court product over the last two weeks or so.

“I just think we have more guys (than in recent seasons) that are competitive," Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said after his team's win Tuesday over the Nets.

“You don’t need much to make P.J. (Tucker) competitive. You don’t need much for Danuel House. (De'Anthony Melton), you don’t need much. Paul Reed, Trez — so you have a lot of guys that they may not be the perfect player, but they’ll compete for you. And that helps us.”

Sixers' first look at Banchero

Paolo Banchero returned from a seven-game absence with a left ankle sprain, meaning the Sixers faced the No. 1 pick for the first time. He started slowly but ultimately posted 19 points, four rebounds and three assists.

Tucker appeared to enjoy that defensive assignment early, showing the 20-year-old he wouldn’t be easy to outmuscle or glide past. After Tucker cut off a Banchero drive, Milton blocked a three-point try from Wagner late in the shot clock, creating a Melton three that gave the Sixers an 8-3 lead. Tucker also anticipated a couple of plays well off the ball in the opening quarter, breaking up potential trouble.

The Magic soon saw it was worth setting screens to get Harrell switched on to Banchero. Orlando didn’t hunt that matchup time after time, though, and the Sixers also introduced a zone defense in the second quarter that was quite effective on a night the Magic went 9 for 35 (25.7 percent) from three-point range.

For the fifth time in the past six games, Tucker was scoreless. He missed a layup in the final seconds of the second quarter, and Banchero then drew three free throws when the official ruled Melton fouled him on a full-court heave. He made two of the foul shots, putting Orlando up 56-52 at intermission.

The Sixers ran one intriguing designed play that involved a post split action with Tucker, but he was otherwise almost entirely peripheral offensively.

Rivers intended to close the game with Georges Niang and Paul Reed in Tucker and Harrell's spots, though Reed fouled out at the 2:16 mark. As for Tucker, Rivers told reporters the 37-year-old didn't play in the fourth quarter because of an injury, per Sixers Wire's Ky Carlin. The Inquirer's Keith Pompey reported Tucker has left ankle soreness.

Tucker has started all 19 games this season and averaged approximately 30 minutes. He and Niang are the only Sixers to have appeared in every game thus far.

Milton's excellent variety 

Melton scored in double figures for his second straight first quarter, recording 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting, though he did not sustain that pace. While his shooting cooled off, Melton again snagged four steals. Harris started out very aggressively before settling into an approach more about picking his spots.

Meanwhile, Milton was the Sixers' best offensive player on the night. During a 10-0 run in the third quarter that put the Sixers up 64-60, he made two three-pointers and assisted two dunks. Later in the third, Milton made a convincing pump fake on the left wing before driving into the middle, attracting a ton of help defense, and flipping a stylish, one-handed assist to Harris for a corner three.

Milton made four threes himself, a figure he reached only once last season. His seven attempts were his most since May 5, 2021. Though Milton has at times found ways to be productive in the past amid poor shooting stretches, this performance showcased how helpful it is when he takes threes confidently and opponents view his jumper as a threat. When that's the case, Milton tends to have an easier time accessing his variety of skills heading downhill.

He's often noted how his teammates encourage him to trust his game and himself. That's yielded great results with Maxey and Harden down.

Niang was the Sixers' No. 3 scorer behind Milton and Harris, and he needed just eight field-goal attempts for his 18 points. His shooting flurries have been vital on several occasions this season. And, to Niang's credit, he's also displayed that his options as a driver are a lot broader and more polished than tossing the ball up before a speedier defender can block it.

Leaving Niang any space to shoot jumpers is never a sound idea, but the tape of him making useful plays off the dribble — smart passes, spinning leaners, awkwardly timed lay-ins — is growing.

New signing Saben Lee joined the Sixers for the first time but did not play. We assume Rivers will want to avoid another 42-minute outing on Sunday for Milton, so perhaps that will lead to a Lee debut.