The Sixers yawned their way to a 116-105 win over the Orlando Magic at home last night. Orlando put a half-scare into the Sixers by leaping out to a 15-6 lead over a sluggish-looking home team, but the Ballers quickly regained momentum - credit Brett Brown for having the instinct to put Richaun Holmes in off the bench for an energy boost, and credit Holmes for actually providing it - and then the Sixers cruised from there, with Joel Embiid putting up 28 points and 14 boards (on 10-17 FG) in 27 minutes, Robert Covington hitting four threes for the first time in a month and the bench doing just enough to keep the starters from having to re-enter in the fourth.
It should have been an easy win against the Magic, and essentially, it was. The Sixers moved to 32-25 on the year, comfortably leading the reeling eight-place Heat by 2.5 games and ninth-place Pistons by 4.5 games in the East standings as of Sunday morning, winners of seven in a row and still undefeated at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. Brown's crew has mostly made it look easy the last few weeks - but now it's about to get hard again. Briefly.
Tonight, the Sixers kick off a three-game road trip in Washington, playing a Wizards team that was supposed to be an easy target for the Sixers to pass in the playoff race once star point guard John Wall was ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury. But backup point guard Tomas Satoransky has flourished in Wall's place, shooting guard Bradley Beal has emerged as fully weaponized and the Wizards have gone an improbable 8-3 in Wall's absence, still leading the Sixers by one game in the standings.
The Sixers' other two games this trip are also against playoff competition - the 31-29 Heat and the 35-23 third-place Cavaliers - meaning postseason implications are aplenty over the next week. It could end with the red-hot Sixers finally being doused with cold water, or it could close with the Sixers making a serious push for home-court advantage in the first round.
Either way, the trip stands as the last really challenging part of the Sixers' schedule. After this, the Sixers have 22 games remaining, only seven of which come against teams currently ticketed for the postseason - none against the top two squads in either conference and only two of which come back to back, when the Sixers host the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets in consecutive home games towards the end of March. Beside that, it's a whole lot of Hornets, Nets and Hawks for the Sixers, who've earned their chance to fatten up on the lottery-bound after a brutal schedule for the first 2/3 of the season.
It's worth taking a moment at this point to step back and appreciate the big picture here. Two seasons ago, the Sixers entered March still just hoping they would be able to win two more games all season to avoid historic infamy and ended up only barely able to do so. Now, they're not just in the playoff picture, they're a serious threat to enter the postseason as a first-round favorite while their three most productive players are all in their first or second year and their No. 1 overall pick from last season hasn't played since October. Remarkable stuff, and you only hope that all concerned can make it to the finish line with all limbs and appendages still functioning properly.