ORLANDO, Fla. — The Philadelphia 76ers are trending in the right direction. Not so much for the Orlando Magic.
Jahlil Okafor scored 20 points, Ish Smith had 13 points and 11 assists and the 76ers beat the Magic 96-87 on Wednesday night.
Philadelphia lost Nerlens Noel (migrane headache) and JaKarr Sampson (hip pointer) to injuries in the first half, but still held on for its second win in three games. The Sixers are 5-8 since opening the season with 30 losses in their first 31 games.
"We feel like we’re playing good basketball and our defence is carrying us," coach Brett Brown said. "If we can lock this down, we’ll be proud to have navigated through all the stuff we did earlier."
Hollis Thompson added 17 points and Isaiah Canaan scored 15 for Philadelphia (6-38), which limited Orlando to 39 per cent shooting from the field.
Orlando (20-21) lost for the eighth time in nine games and dropped below .500 for the first time since Nov. 29. The Magic led 20-10 to start the game, but a lack of intensity on defence and reckless shot selection proved costly.
"Our lack of competitiveness is frightening, really," Magic coach Scott Skiles said. "They were pushing us all around on both ends of the floor and we basically capitulated.
"If that’s all we can muster mentally, it’s not going to look good for us the rest of the year. Our goal right now should be just simply to win a game."
Thompson, Canaan and fellow reserve Jerami Grant combined for 44 points on 15-of-25 shooting. Grant had 12 points and five blocked shots.
But Smith’s play was the biggest key down the stretch for Philadelphia. Smith, who was acquired in a Dec. 24 trade with New Orleans, was 6 for 11 from the field in 30 1/2 minutes.
After Aaron Gordon’s three-point play got Orlando within four with 4:43 remaining, Smith stopped the rally with a 15-footer. Okafor made a layup and Canaan added five points to push the lead back to 96-85 with 1:36 left, and the Magic never challenged again.
"It’s not just me," said Smith, who was getting credit from all his teammates and coaches for becoming a team leader the last three weeks. "This team is just growing up and this is a huge step for us as far as closing out games down the stretch. I can name numerous games that we would have won if we would have closed it the right way."
Elfrid Payton led Orlando with 21 points and 10 assists. Nikola Vucevic had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Tobias Harris added 15 points and 10 boards.
The 76ers went 9 for 19 from 3-point range and shot 48.6 per cent from the field overall.
Sixers: Okafor has scored 20 or more points 18 times this season, tops among NBA rookies. … Canaan has nine 3-pointers in two trips to Orlando this season.
Magic: SG Victor Oladipo missed his second game with a sprained knee. Oladipo averaged 20.4 points and shot 60 per cent from 3-point range in the five games before he was injured. … Orlando went 4 for 17 from 3-point range. … PF Andrew Nicholson has dropped out of the rotation after going scoreless the last four games.
Sixers: Host Boston on Saturday
Magic: Host Charlotte on Friday.
PRAISE FOR ISH
Smith, who has played for nine teams in five years, has suddenly found a home in Philadelphia. He has started the last 13 games for the Sixers, averaging 8.3 assists.
"Ish is a clear example to all of us how good NBA points guards are and how hard it is to hold down a job at that position," Brown said. "He’s been a difference maker for me and our team. We’re playing purpose basketball with him."