|Sixers host Magic aiming to keep improving|
The Philadelphia 76ers will try to continue their strong play when they host the struggling Orlando Magic on Saturday night.
The Sixers lost the opener of their season-long six-game homestand last Saturday to the Golden State Warriors, but followed that with routs of the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers, the latter a 101-81 victory on Wednesday.
Overall, Philadelphia has won four of five to improve to 10-7, marked improvement from two seasons ago, when they finished 10-72.
"My rookie year we came in expecting to win but we didn't have the players to get us over the hump," third-year point guard T.J. McConnell said. "Definitely this year there's a lot of expectations and we've got a lot of good players here. I think we come in expecting to win every game."
The best of the lot are second-year center Joel Embiid and rookie guard-forward Ben Simmons. Embiid had 28 points and 12 rebounds against the Blazers, while Simmons finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
"They've got a really young core, so they're excited," Portland guard Damian Lillard said of the Sixers. "They brought in some quality pieces to surround those guys, and they're playing well. The fans here are excited. It's always been a strong fan base, and now they got something to be excited about, not just in the future, but they're winning games now. When you have some success, you give them something to cheer for."
The Magic (8-11) fell 118-103 in Boston on Friday night, their seventh straight defeat. Kyrie Irving scored 30 points in 24 minutes for the Celtics, who built a 99-69 lead after three quarters. Terry Rozier added a career-high 23.
Jonathon Simmons had 14 points to lead Orlando, which will be making its third stop on a four-game road trip Saturday.
"It's obviously a rough patch for us," guard Evan Fournier told the Orlando Sentinel. "We're playing really, really bad. There's no other way to say it. We were late defensively again on the help (and) just one-on-one containment. That was obviously not good enough. It's always the same thing. So there's not much to say, honestly."
Magic coach Frank Vogel did add more, however.
"We're giving in too much right now, and we've got to correct that," he told the Sentinel. "We've got to get better with that and show more toughness, more fight. I think they're trying but not playing tough enough -- not anywhere near tough enough."
The Magic have been without rookie forward Jonathan Isaac (sprained right ankle) the last six games, and forward Adreian Payne (broken left hand) has yet to play this season. Mario Hezonja returned Friday, after missing the two previous games with a head injury.
The Sixers continue to be without rookie guard Markelle Fultz, the first pick in this year's draft. He has missed the last 13 games with a shoulder injury. Justin Anderson (shin splints) and Nik Stauskas (ankle sprain) are also out.