Disappearing Act

Road magic disappears as Pistons fall hard at Orlando


The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

WHITE HOT – The Pistons, coming off their first three-day break of the NBA season, appeared sluggish in trailing virtually from wire to wire and losing 109-92 to Orlando, which took an 8-20 record into the game. Orlando shot 53 percent to Detroit’s 41 percent – the disparity was wider until the last five minutes – and outscored the Pistons in the paint 58-48, a category the Pistons, No. 1 in the league, usually dominate. Brandon Jennings scored 18 of his 21 points in the first half when the rest of his teammates struggled from the field, hitting 14 of 34 shots. Will Bynum had 18 off the bench. The Pistons had won seven of their last eight road games.

BLUE COLLAR – Ex-Piston Arron Afflalo got the better of the matchup with the team that drafted him into the NBA in 2007. Orlando began the game making Afflalo the focal point of their half-court offense, using him to post up against slight Pistons rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Afflalo got the Magic off to a strong start as he hit 3 of 3. He finished with 23 points, making 9 of 11 shots, including 2 of 2 from the 3-point line.

RED FLAG – Rodney Stuckey, who missed two games last week with a shoulder injury suffered in the Dec. 15 overtime loss to Portland, appeared to aggravate the injury when he reached in to contest a Tobias Harris shot attempt near the rim in the first half. Stuckey bent over, grabbing his shoulder, and was seen trying to get his range of motion in the joint back during several dead-ball situations. He didn’t play after halftime. Stuckey has anchored the second unit all season with his scoring, but a lingering injury to his shooting shoulder could prove problematic.

ORLANDO – The Pistons have stayed afloat in the eminently forgiving Eastern Conference despite a 6-10 home record by virtue of their surprising ability to win road games.

They’d won seven of their last eight away from The Palace entering Friday’s game at Orlando, an 8-20 team that had lost its last three games – all at home – against opponents with a cumulative record of 25-61.

So their 109-92 loss, in which a seven-point halftime deficit quickly doubled and ruptured to21 points by the late third quarter, was something of a warning to them: Road wins are nice, but you’d better make your stand at home.

“From the start of the game, we couldn’t get anything going,” Maurice Cheeks said. “Offensively, defensively, we just couldn’t get anything going from the start.”

The Pistons can win on nights they don’t have all three of their frontcourt aces flying, but on nights when all of them lay an egg – pretty much what happened at Orlando – they really have few places to turn.

The Pistons lost the battle of the frontcourt – their overwhelming strength – decisively to the Magic. Tobias Harris had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Glen Davis 14 and eight and Nic Vucevic 20 and 11. They outscored the Detroit frontcourt 50-21, outrebounded them 29-24 and made 22 of 41 shots compared to the 10 of 34 compiled by Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

"There was no sense of urgency. We didn’t match their energy at all tonight."

- Brandon Jennings on the third quarter
Full game quotes
Brandon Jennings scored 18 first-half points even though he really didn’t even look to score much early, soon sensing he had few options.

“I was trying,” said Jennings, who finished with 21 points and eight assists. “I mean, I usually don’t take any days off, so I’m always ready. But I knew we were lacking energy, so I had to be more aggressive offensively and just try to keep the game close.”

It could have easily been worse than seven points at halftime, but the Pistons left the court with a closing rush as Josh Harrellson hit a triple. Yet whatever chance they had for a comeback probably was lost in the first four minutes of the third quarter when Orlando doubled its lead. Nobody had a more frustrating night than Smith, who missed three shots – a layup, a 5-footer and a triple – and committed a turnover in that four-minute stretch before Cheeks took him out for good.

Perhaps nothing Cheeks said after the game was more telling than the playing time logged by his frontcourt starters. Smith played 22 minutes, Monroe 21 and Drummond 23.

“You just try to find another way,” Jennings said. “That’s why there’s (13) players on the team. I felt like our bench played hard.”

Harrellson gave the Pistons nine points and six boards in 24 minutes and Jonas Jerebko played a strong fourth quarter, pitching in eight points and five boars in 13 minutes. Will Bynum also finished with 18 points. But the hole was too deep, the momentum provided by the Harrellson tripled squandered in the lethargic start to the third quarter.

“We didn’t have enough energy it looked like out there,” Harrellson said. “We tried to come in the second half and tried to give a boost but we fell short. … There were times we could get whatever we wanted, but they were doing the same thing. We just kept trading baskets and in the long run they finished more than we did. Their defense wasn’t spectacular; we just weren’t finishing.”

Orlando shot nearly 60 percent for much of the night, while the Pistons hovered in the high 30s, low 40s range. The Pistons missed from everywhere, but especially damaging was their inability to score with their customary efficiency near the basket. All those close-range misses gave Orlando transition chances and the Pistons didn’t excel in transition defense, either.

“I think (the paint misses) was affecting our other side,” Cheeks said. “It’s probably one of the few times we got beat with points in the paint and usually that’s our strong suit. We score in the paint, and if we’re not scoring in the paint and we’re not scoring outside, it’s going to result in trouble.”

It wasn’t only Orlando’s frontcourt that won the night. Ex-Piston Arron Afflalo got Orlando rolling, scoring in the post against Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and No. 2 pick Victor Oladipo made Magic management’s decision to use him as a point guard look astute with eight first-half assists in 17 minutes off the bench. Afflalo finished with 23 points on 9 of 11 shooting and Oladipo with 16 points and 11 assists.

“We know Afflalo is a good player,” Cheeks said. “They started the game going down low, putting the ball in his hands. He didn’t make plays for other people, but he scored the ball. Oladipo came in the game and he made plays inside the paint. Our perimeter defense was obviously not very good and covering the paint was not good.”

Not much was for the Pistons, who play a home-and-home with Washington (there Saturday night, at The Palace on Monday), a team they’ll likely be battling for playoff positioning over the second half of the season.

“At this point right now, we need every win we can get,” Jennings said. “We don’t want to keep letting games like this slip.”