In The Race

The Orlando Magic started the season strong to emerge as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Suddenly, the Philadelphia 76ers are in that same race.

The 76ers go for their seventh win in eight games as they visit the Southeast Division-leading Magic on Friday.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Orlando -7 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 204 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 85% of bets for this game have been placed on Orlando -7 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Philadelphia (24-31) has struggled at times, opening 5-13 and suffering through a seven-game losing streak from Jan. 2-14. However, the Sixers have taken advantage of the East's weak playoff field by pulling into the eighth spot with their recent surge.

"We want to compete hard every game and make the playoffs," said Philadelphia forward Andre Iguodala, averaging 19.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists in his last seven games.

The Sixers have outscored opponents by an average of 12.7 points during their 6-1 stretch since Feb. 5. They had a five-game win streak snapped at Minnesota in their first game after the All-Star break, but rebounded by scoring a season high in their 124-84 blowout victory over New York on Wednesday.

"Tonight was a great bounce back game," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks told the team's official Web site. "For us to come out and play the way we are capable of playing, especially with the way we played last night, tonight was a great game for us.

"Getting up and down the floor, getting our hands on steals for open court plays, I just thought our energy was great, and going into tonight, that was something we were focusing on."

The team's recent success helped Cheeks earn a one-year contract extension. He agreed to the deal on Wednesday, giving him through the 2008-09 season to get Philadelphia back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005 - the season before Cheeks took over the club.

"That's what I'm excited about, the chance to come back and try this all over again," Cheeks said. "When you have a lot of young players, you hope that you can see it through."

Orlando (34-22) is one of the few East teams that appears to have a firm hold on a playoff berth. Thanks in part to their 16-4 start, the Magic have the third-best record in the conference and a 7 1/2-game lead in their division.

Orlando, though, is coming off one of its worst defensive efforts. It gave up its second-highest point total of the season in a 127-110 loss at Toronto on Wednesday to fall for the fourth time in seven games.

"There was not one thing they did that we could guard," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose team hadn't allowed a team to score that many points since its 128-110 defeat at San Antonio on Nov. 21. "I didn't like our level of competitiveness. I thought we were hanging our heads and stuff."

All-Star center Dwight Howard was just as disappointed with the team's attitude in the loss.

"We hung our heads a little bit," said Howard, who had 37 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots. "We can't do that. We've just got to keep fighting."

Howard is averaging 21.6 points and 13.9 rebounds and shooting 66.7 percent (64-for-96) from the field in his last eight games against the Sixers. He had 17 points and 14 boards against them in the Magic's 108-106 victory on Feb. 1.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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