Magic-76ers Preview

In the wake of a move he hopes will get the Orlando Magic closer to the playoffs, coach Scott Skiles faces the difficult challenge of mixing in newcomers in the middle of the pursuit.

In a road matchup he says they "can't afford to lose," Skiles will try to find the right mix Tuesday night when the Magic look to avoid a second straight loss to the NBA-worst Philadelphia 76ers.

Orlando had visions of its first postseason appearance in four years during a 19-13 start, but the front office felt it needed to make a change last week after the club dropped 16 of its next 20.

The Magic, 4 1/2 games out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, traded Tobias Harris to Detroit for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. The move paid immediate dividends Friday when the additions teamed for 34 points in a 110-104 overtime home win over Dallas.

Jennings and Ilyasova, however, couldn't match that effort Sunday when they scored 19 on 7-of-18 shooting in a 105-102 loss to visiting Indiana. The Magic (24-30) have played a league-high 14 games decided by three points or fewer, and have lost nine of those contests.

Skiles says Jennings compliments starter Elfrid Payton well, though now he's also trying to find minutes for C.J. Watson. He's played just 18 in his first two games since early November due to a calf injury.

"This is not the ideal way that you'd like to be (working guys into the lineup), right in the middle of the season when you're trying to play well - but it happens," Skiles said.

Since surrendering an average of 111.6 points over a 1-7 stretch, the Magic have tightened things up by allowing 102.2 on 43.8 percent shooting in their last five. They've been tougher down the stretch over the past two, limiting Dallas and Indiana to a combined 34.1 mark in the fourth quarter.

"When we haven't guarded, we've given ourselves no chance to win hardly," Skiles said.

Orlando now seeks its fourth win in six games overall and fourth in a row at Philadelphia. It'll certainly have to keep a watch on rookie center Jahlil Okafor and former Magic point guard Ish Smith after they loomed large in a 96-87 loss to the 76ers on Jan. 20.

Okafor led the way with 20 points and Smith added 13 with 11 assists as the 76ers (8-47) shot 48.6 percent and hit 9 for 19 from 3-point range. Okafor has shined in the last five games, averaging 21.4 points and 9.8 rebounds after scoring a season-high 31 in Sunday's 129-103 loss at Dallas.

''The team was giving me the ball in great position to score, and I was just trying to keep being aggressive,'' said Okafor after Philadelphia's fourth straight loss and eighth in nine games.

The 76ers have averaged 109.0 points and hit 43.3 percent from 3 in the last three, but they've allowed 121.3 points per game.

Payton has played well for Orlando in the season series, totaling 41 points and 15 assists. He led the way with 20 points in a 105-97 win in the most recent meeting at Philadelphia on Nov. 7.

Former 76ers center Nikola Vucevic, who did not play in that contest, has averaged 22.0 points and 12.8 rebounds over four consecutive double-doubles.

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