PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The 76ers had one of their worst performances of the season to open a rugged stretch on the schedule.
It was good enough to beat slumping Orlando.
Still, the surprising Sixers know they’ll have to play better if they want to prove they’re for real during a 10-day stretch of games against some of the top teams in the NBA.
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Andre Iguodala had 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead Philadelphia to its third straight win, 74-69 over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.
The Sixers raced to their best start in nearly a decade by taking advantage of a soft schedule for the first third of the season, but it gets tough from here. Orlando was the first opponent in a long run of games against winning teams that includes home games this week against Chicago and Miami.
Led by Iguodala’s burst in the third quarter, the Sixers (15-6) outlasted the stumbling Magic and won despite posting their lowest point total of the season. Dwight Howard’s 17 points and 11 rebounds weren’t enough in Orlando’s fourth straight loss.
The Sixers shot 38 percent from the floor, 27 percent from 3-point range and 53 percent from the foul line, some of their worst numbers of the season.
“I would have not bet on us winning that game tonight,” with those numbers, coach Doug Collins said.
After Chicago and Miami, the Sixers play Saturday at Atlanta. They return home next week for games against the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.
“That was a much-needed win for us here with what we have ahead of us this week,” Collins said.
Howard wants out of Orlando and criticized his teammates Friday for not playing hard enough in a loss to New Orleans. He missed eight of 13 free throws overall against Philadelphia and the Magic missed 14 of 17 shots from the floor in the third. Ryan Anderson had 14 points and 20 rebounds.
After losing to the lowly Hornets, Howard said his teammates should just stay in the locker room if they didn’t want to play.
Orlando’s star center said it’s OK to rip his team even though he’d like to be traded.
“It’s not the first time I’ve called them out,” Howard said. “As a leader, you’ve got to do things that people don’t like. People hate what they don’t understand. My teammates understand why I said what I said. They all agree. It’s not like, `Oh, Dwight’s wrong with what he said.’ But that’s with anything. My job is to challenge my teammates and challenge myself to go out and play every night.”
The Magic missed nine straight shots during a 6-minute stretch in the third that allowed the Sixers to build a double-digit lead. Jodie Meeks hit a 3-pointer for a 53-40 lead and the 76ers withstood three late 3s by Orlando that trimmed the final margin.
The Magic scored only nine points in the third quarter. Howard had all three baskets.
With 6 minutes left in the game, the Magic had yet to reach 50 points.
“We’re still a great basketball team, we’re just going through a tough stretch. That’s it,” Howard said. “There’s no need for us to complain or point the finger or for anybody to panic. We’re going to be fine.”
Long the fourth pro team in Philadelphia, the improved Sixers are winning back fans one victory at a time. They improved to 11-2 at home in front one of their largest crowds of the season (16,299). Heading into a timeout in the third, the Atlantic Division leaders walked off toward the huddle to a standing ovation.
Coming off a triple-double against Detroit on Saturday, Iguodala fell four assists shy of a repeat effort. The rest of the Sixers struggled to score, but Philadelphia didn’t need to do much against an Orlando team that has completely unraveled. Evan Turner scored 12 points for the Sixers and Thaddeus Young had 10.
Sixers first-year CEO Adam Aron mingled with fans as the team’s retro theme song was blasted for the enthusiastic crowd. Aron and the new ownership group have overhauled the game-night atmosphere, but the biggest change has come on the court.
They’ll need more than a catchy tune to get through the next two weeks.
Fans yelled “On the list!” at Howard, a reference to placing the Sixers on his short list of teams where he’d like to be traded.
Asked if he’d put the blossoming Sixers on the list, Howard simply said it was a blessing to be wanted by teams.
Before the game, Howard walked around the locker room with a brick in each hand, playfully swinging them around and yelling, “I’m going to knock somebody in the head!”
He shot more bricks from the free throw line, not a total surprise considering he shoots 46 percent from the line.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he needs to find answers to stop the losing.
“We have to address the issues at hand,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s fatigue. I just know we are not playing well. Clearly, we have some things to address on offense.”
NOTES: Magic point guard Jameer Nelson did not travel with the team, sidelined with concussion-like symptoms after taking an inadvertent blow to the head and jaw in Orlando’s loss at New Orleans on Friday. Van Gundy said Nelson could be sidelined another week. … The 76ers played again without starting center Spencer Hawes (left Achilles strain) and his backup, rookie Nik Vucevic (left quad strain). … Iguodala moved into fourth place on the team’s career steals list, passing Charles Barkley. … Orlando’s nine points in the third was the low against Philly for a quarter.