ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Injuries left Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson as a spectator in each of his team’s first two matchups this season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
In Round 3 the Pennsylvania native reminded the Sixers what his presence can bring to a game.
Nelson had 24 points and 10 assists, and Nik Vucevic added 14 points and 17 rebounds as the Magic held off the Sixers in the fourth quarter to secure a 99-91 victory on Sunday night.
The win ended the Magic’s seven-game home losing streak, their longest skid in Orlando since 2003-04. It also gives the Magic some momentum in advance of the Los Angeles Lakers’ visit Tuesday, which will be Dwight Howard’s first return to Orlando since he was traded this past summer.
As for Sunday, Nelson said that playing against the Sixers always seems to bring out some of his best basketball.
“I was told by some people in that organization that I wasn’t good enough when I came out, so maybe I do have a little chip on my shoulder,” he said. “But really I just try to help my team win.”
Nelson’s effort wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“Jameer was huge,” Vucevic said. “We need him to do that. He’s the guy who’s been here the longest. He knows this league. He’s been to the finals. He’s got experience. He knows how to close games out and we need him to do that.”
Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris added 17 and 15 points, respectively. The double-double was the 35th of the season for Vucevic, who was dealt to the Magic by Philadelphia as part of the multi-team Howard deal.
Thaddeus Young had 26 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, followed by Damien Wilkins with 16 points in his first start of the season.
The loss was just the latest in what has been a steady decline by Philadelphia. The Sixers have dropped five straight and 13 in a row on the road.
“It definitely hurts to go out there and lose basketball games, but at the end of the day it happens,” Young said. “Not every team is going to have a good season. We just have to try and take some positives out of it and just keep trying to figure it out.”
After giving Charles Jenkins his first start at shooting guard on Friday since he came over from Golden State at the trade deadline, Sixers coach Doug Collins decided to start Wilkins a small forward and shift Evan Turner to shooting guard on Sunday.
Wilkins made the most of the opportunity, providing an early lift, knocking down open jumpers and getting baskets in the lane.
But Harris’ second straight start at power forward also helped give a jolt to the Magic’s offense, as he matched baskets with Philadelphia’s Young throughout to help spread out the Sixers’ defense.
“We go through slumps where we don’t score,” Sixers guard Jrue Holiday said. “We got up like 10 points on them and they came back and matched that. There are times we need to go on a scoring streak and I don’t think we had it today.”
The Magic led by a point entering the fourth quarter and it remained tight throughout.
They got a little separation on a 3-pointer by Nelson that gave the Magic a 91-87 lead with just over 3 minutes to play in the game.
Trailing 91-89, Holiday had a chance to tie it at the free throw line, but came up empty on both tries.
Afflalo then knocked down a jumper on the ensuing Magic touch to stretch their lead to four.
Both teams traded misses before Beno Udrih’s picked off a pass by Wilkins, which eventually led to a 3 from the corner by Afflalo with less than a minute remaining.
Following a Philadelphia miss, Nelson hit a jumper that made it 98-91 and the Magic closed out the win at the foul line.
“Well, he made some big shots,” Collins said. “I felt really bad for Damien because Damien really played his heart out for him to throw the ball away at the end. … I thought we had some guys play very, very well, but we just have not found a way to finish games.”
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he hopes this is the start of his team protecting home court the rest of the season.
“I have made that a point to our guys,” he said. “The fans have been unbelievable. … It was good to give them a win. They deserve it.”
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