The Philadelphia 76ers will have yet another chance to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race when they host the Orlando Magic on Friday.
The Sixers (47-23) have dropped consecutive games on the road to the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. Philadelphia struggled in a 106-94 lossto the Heat on Thursday as Joel Embiid managed only six points and two rebounds in 25 minutes.
Embiid missed the game at Indiana with a non-COVID illness. The MVP candidate has missed 20 of his team's 70 games this season.
"He was pretty sick," Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. "He worked out (Wednesday) and didn't look great, but he got up and down the floor a little bit."
The Sixers' chances of clinching the top seed are quite strong considering their final two home games will be against the depleted Magic. Win Friday and they're in as the No. 1 seed in the East.
Philadelphia hasn't advanced to the NBA Finals since 2001 and, with a win, it will be able to rest and recover for the playoffs.
"I don't really know what we are going to do. My guess is all of the players will come down with practice, flu and not be able to show up," Rivers said of potentially having some rare practice time. "So I'm not even sure what we are going to do. It would be nice, though. It really would.
"But I do think one of the pluses to that is we don't jump right from the regular season to the playoffs. It gives us an opportunity to prepare."
The Magic (21-49) will hope to avoid their sixth straight loss.
They were crushed 116-93 by the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday. R.J. Hampton led the way with 18 points while Wendell Carter Jr. added 12 points and 11 rebounds and Cole Anthony scored 12 points.
Orlando's Gary Harris scored just seven points but continues to carve his niche as a team leader during these difficult times. Harris once went through a complete rebuild with the Denver Nuggets.
"When you have time to spend with him and you watch him in practice, you watch the way he integrates with his teammates and everything, he has character both on the court and off the court," Magic coach Steve Clifford said. "Obviously those are the guys that you want talking in the huddles, talking in the locker room, because he believes and he talks about the right things."
Moritz Wagner had only four points and four rebounds against the Hawks, but he has been one of Orlando's most improved players thanks in large part to Harris' leadership.
"It's always great to have somebody like that speak up," Wagner said. "And as a young guy you can look up to that. You want to pull along for guys like that who know how to win. That's obviously a teaching lesson for us as young guys; and, if we want to keep going, we've got to rely on veterans like that because we obviously want to be a winning team, too."
--Field Level Media