LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Before his Philadelphia 76ers beat the Orlando Magic 108-101 on Friday night, coach Brett Brown was asked about coming to grips with having to be without Ben Simmons moving forward.
"We don't have him for tonight and you're just numb to it," Brown said. "You just move [on]. It ends up, as I've said, it's like, 'ready, fire, aim.' You figure it out."
That clearly wasn't what Brown, one of the most reliably good quotes among the NBA's coaches, meant to say. But there might not be a better way to summarize both Philadelphia's confounding season and its embarrassing performance against Orlando than "ready, fire, aim."
Philadelphia did survive this game, pulling away in the fourth quarter against a team missing two starters in Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. There was little about their performance that would inspire confidence in anyone hoping for the Sixers to survive without Simmons and make a playoff run.
When inside Wells Fargo Center this season, Philly looked like the best team on the planet. Everywhere else -- including inside the NBA's bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort -- the Sixers have looked decidedly mediocre.
Friday was no different, as Philadelphia meandered its way through a game in which it should have cruised to a victory.
Much of the reason for that was the play of Joel Embiid, the team's superstar center. When Embiid plays inspired, there's an argument that he is the best, and most dominant, player on the planet.
On this night, he couldn't have been less inspired.
The stat line -- 23 points and 13 rebounds in 37 minutes -- looks respectable enough. But for large stretches of the game, Embiid played at a comfortable cruise control. On multiple plays, he didn't move as his opposite number, Nikola Vucevic, easily scored. And while he got whatever he wanted in the paint (7-for-9 shooting), he took almost as many shots outside of it -- and missed them all.
Ultimately, the Sixers -- like they did so many times this season -- won on sheer talent in the end. But that likely won't be enough in what looks like a first-round showdown against either their blood rivals, the Boston Celtics, or the Miami Heat.
Al Horford played well Friday night, but guard Josh Richardson (2-for-12) continued what has been a disappointing season since being swapped for Jimmy Butler last summer. And Tobias Harris finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds, but shot just 8-for-21 and is now shooting 44.7% from the field.
This is a team that gave up a combined 89 points in the fourth quarters of its first two games here, then escaped with a win against the winless Wizards before Friday's lackluster performance.
In short, the Sixers have done nothing to show that they merit contender status in the East, whether Simmons returns or not. -- Tim Bontemps
Pelicans play 'desperate game' versus Wizards
After a lethargic first half against the Washington Wizards, the Pelicans' energy arrived in the third quarter in the form of role players Frank Jackson and Nicolo Melli as they helped to lift New Orleans to a win. Jackson and Melli were a part of the unit that picked up the Wizards full court in the third quarter and helped the Pelicans to a 35-22 quarter and ultimately a 118-107 win.
Melli, 29 and in his first season after a 13-year professional career in Europe, joked that as a rookie, he needed to bring the energy on defense. He finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Meanwhile, Jackson played one of his better games of the season and finished plus-30 in just 20 minutes. He was the first Pelican to finish plus-30 in any game this season, and according to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was just the 12th time this season a player was plus-30 or more in 20 minutes or fewer.
The win keeps the Pelicans alive as they chase the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference playoff race. New Orleans is 2½ games behind Memphis, currently in the eighth spot, with three games to go and 1½ back of the Trail Blazers with four games left for Portland. New Orleans still trails San Antonio by a half game and is tied with Phoenix. The Pelicans and Spurs play each other on Sunday afternoon. -- Andrew Lopez
Raptors roughed up by Celtics
Toronto struggled mightily in the first half as Boston held its Eastern Conference rival to just 37 points in the first two quarters. Per ESPN Stats & Information data, that scoring output is the lowest in either half in the Nick Nurse era as coach of the franchise.
The defending champions failed to have anyone score more than 13 points as the Raptors lost 122-100. The 22-point loss is the largest point difference suffered by the franchise all season.
KD cashes in on Brooklyn's postseason
Kevin Durant has earned a $1M bonus with Brooklyn now clinching a playoff spot. The bonus before the season was considered likely and will not impact his $40.1M cap hit for 2020-21. https://t.co/lwhsuuIgFR— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) August 7, 2020
LeBron shares update on Lakers' Madden tournament
The combination of LeBron James and Tom Brady seems formidable, but apparently it hasn't been enough to overcome Quinn Cook and Kyler Murray. James shared an update on the Lakers' in-bubble Madden tournament on his Instagram stories page earlier Friday, and Cook remains undefeated playing as the Arizona Cardinals, with James close behind with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Meanwhile, rookie Talen Horton-Tucker remains winless playing as the Minnesota Vikings.
Will send end of week 7 updates after tonight's games. 🏈 🎮 https://t.co/WRhASRygdx— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 7, 2020
Thunder close half with six points in five seconds
Late in Friday's first half, the Thunder trailed the Grizzlies by nine points. Then, in the blink of an eye, that deficit was cut to three at halftime.
The Grizzlies recovered well, though, outscoring OKC 32-18 in the third quarter to take control of the game.
Happy birthday, DeMar DeRozan
San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan -- who actually started at power forward Friday -- celebrated his 31st birthday by scoring 13 points in a win over the Jazz. Though fans couldn't be in the arena, they found a way to help him mark the occasion.
Zion (rest) sits vs. Wizards
With the New Orleans Pelicans on the second day of a back-to-back set, No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson sat out Friday night's victory against the Washington Wizards for rest purposes. Williamson averaged 19.1 minutes per game in the Pelicans' first four seeding games, three of which resulted in losses. The rookie is putting up 16.8 points per game on 58.3% shooting in that stretch.
Jordan Clarkson gets ridiculous layup to drop
The Utah Jazz were playing without four starters against the San Antonio Spurs, which resulted in plenty of shot opportunities for backup guard Jordan Clarkson, who scored 24 points in 24 minutes, including this must-see twisting layup.
In the East, the final two playoff spots have been officially locked up. The Brooklyn Nets clinched their spot after taking down the Sacramento Kings 119-106, while the Orlando Magic clinched their spot after the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Washington Wizards 118-107. The Wizards are officially eliminated from playoff contention.
In the West, the Grizzlies' win gave them a one-game cushion over Portland in the eighth spot. The Blazers are a game up on the Spurs, who opened Friday's action by beating the Jazz.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-37 (.471) | --
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 32-38 (.457) | 1.0 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 30-38 (.441) | 2.0 GB
11. Phoenix Suns | 30-39 (.435) | 2.5 GB
11. New Orleans Pelicans | 30-39 (.435) | 2.5 GB
13. Sacramento Kings | 29-40 (.420) | 3.5 GB
Saturday's must-see games
After losing to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, the Clippers got back on track by beating the Dallas Mavericks -- their likely quarterfinals opponent -- on Thursday behind 29 points from Kawhi Leonard. Portland, meanwhile, will be looking to knock off yet another surefire playoff team in the West after beating the Houston Rockets on Tuesday and the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. The Trail Blazers continue their push for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets | 3:30 p.m. ET
Denver will be hoping to get closer to full strength, as the Nuggets have played each of their first four games -- which they split -- with starters Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton all sitting out because of injuries. Utah, on the other hand, will be playing the second half of a back-to-back set after it opened Friday's slate of games with a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Phoenix Suns vs. Miami Heat | 7:30 p.m. ET
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Dallas Mavericks | 8:30 p.m. ET
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