Pistons Much Different Team With Blake Griffin

by John Denton

ORLANDO – Tonight will be the third time this season that the Orlando Magic have faced the Detroit Pistons. But, in some ways, it will be like the first time the two teams have squared off because of midseason changes made by Detroit president and head coach Stan Van Gundy and the new-look Pistons.

Struggling and on the verge of missing the playoffs a second straight season, Detroit pulled off the blockbuster trade of the NBA season on Feb. 1 when it acquired power forward Blake Griffin from the Los Angeles Clippers. It cost the Pistons forward Tobias Harris, guard Avery Bradley and center Boban Marjanovic and they will be on the hook for paying Griffin $140 million through 2022.

The move had immediate benefits for the Pistons as they won four straight following the Griffin acquisition, leading some analysts to predict that Detroit would rise as high as No. 3 in the Eastern Conference.

However, since that moment, Detroit has dropped six of eight games. Now, as Detroit (29-32) heads into tonight’s game against Orlando (18-43) at the Amway Center, it is 2½ games out of the final playoff spot in the East. In facing an offense centered around the multi-dimensional talents of Griffin, the Magic will be seeing a dramatically different Detroit team than the one they split two games against earlier in the season.

``They certainly do (look different) and he’s given them a big lift,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said of Griffin. ``Obviously, they’re dealing with not having their starting point guard (Reggie Jackson) and their record isn’t as good as it’s going to be once they get to full strength. But Blake is a dynamic, dynamic player and he enhances everything that they do.’’

Griffin could see a new look from the Magic in the form of 6-foot-10 forward Jonathan Isaac, who is expected to play in his first NBA game since Dec. 26. The rookie has only play sparingly since a Nov. 11 ankle injury and the Magic plan to use him tonight on a limited basis. Vogel said that Isaac – the No. 6 pick in last June’s NBA Draft – will play 15 minutes against the Pistons.

``It feels fantastic,’’ Isaac said of his much-anticipated return. ``Just going through shootaround (with his Magic teammates), laughing and joking around with them again, it feels really good.

``I’m hyped, man, to get out there and just play basketball again,’’ he added. ``It will be the same old me. I’ll be anxious at the start and hopefully it will subside as the game goes along. I don’t know how many minutes it will be, but I’m anxious to get back out there.’’

While the Pistons certainly have inconsistent since the Griffin trade, the Magic have problems of their own, dropping seven straight games – three before the break for the NBA All-Star Game (to Milwaukee, Chicago and Milwaukee) and four straight after (to New York, Philadelphia, Oklahoma City and Toronto). Orlando’s offense has played exceptionally well during the skid, averaging 104.8 points per game. However, the defense has been quite the issue as the Magic are giving up 111.1 points over the past seven games and foes have topped 115 points three times.

``It’s just about effort and energy through 48 minutes,’’ Magic forward Aaron Gordon said. ``We let up a lot of the times (defensively) and it results in a loss.’’

In 12 games with the Pistons, Griffin has averaged 18.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game. However, he’s shooting just 39.6 percent from the floor and only 25.8 percent from 3-point range. During his 6-6 run in Detroit, the Pistons rank 21st in the NBA in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency. Those numbers haven’t improved much at all from prior to the trade when Detroit was 23-26 and ranked 21st and 13th in offensive and defensive efficiency.

``Blake is a versatile guy who can do a lot of things on the basketball court,’’ Gordon said of his counterpart. ``He’s making that team better by being unselfish and shooting the ball. So, he’s a good basketball player.’’

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