Orlando Magic vs. Detroit Pistons: Game Preview

Nikola Vucevic
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic will have the opportunity to record a three-game winning streak for the first time this calendar year when they go head-to-head with the Detroit Pistons at Amway Center on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

The Magic have won three out of their last four games and made dramatic improvements on both ends of the floor over that span. During that stretch, they’re top 10 in the league in 3-point percentage (37.7 percent) and pace (100.75), while possessing a top-five defensive rating (106.4).

“Everybody is playing well,” said Magic forward James Ennis III, who returned from a two-game absence in Orlando’s home win over Golden State on Friday. “We have to continue to get better each and every game, continue to watch film, and work on the things we’re not doing well. Once we get everything clicking, it’s going to be tough to beat us.”

With a number of players recently returning from injury, the Magic have more closely resembled the squad that they were envisioned to be at the start of the season with veteran players doing some of the heavy lifting and youngsters making key contributions while growing into the NBA game.

In their win over the Warriors, the Magic followed that blueprint to perfection. Nikola Vucevic notched a triple-double, Evan Fournier scored a season-high 28 points, and Terrence Ross poured in 24 points off the pine, while Chuma Okeke came up with a few critical defensive plays and clutch triples in the closing moments of an exhilarating victory.

“It’s going to be scary when we get everybody healthy,” Ennis said. “I was talking to (Aaron Gordon) about it, once we get him back, it’s going to be tough.”

If the Magic (12-18), who are only two games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, hope to make a push for the postseason, they’ll need a strong finish to their pre-All-Star-break schedule with five out of their next six games coming at home. The first two of those six come against a Detroit squad (8-21) that currently possesses the worst record in the East.

“The next two games will be big for us as well at home before we go on a one-day road trip,” Vucevic said. “Step by step, we want to keep building and keep getting better.”

KEY STATS: It may be too late for fans to vote for Vucevic for the NBA All-Star Game, but the Magic center is still making his case. After notching a triple-double against the Warriors on Friday night, Vucevic once again found his name mentioned with rare company.

By notching his third career triple-double with 30 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, Vooch now has more of them than every center in Magic history combined. He also joined Nikola Jokic as the only centers to notch a 30-point triple-double with zero turnovers since 1985, according to StatMuse.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I love Chuma, I really do. I like the player, but I just like the person even more. He does the right thing and he has the right mindset. I’m just really happy for him that he had a good night (against the Warriors) and made some huge shots. As a rookie, this is no small thing. Golden State is a very good team, and I’m sorry, but he had the balls to take some shots and make (them). That’s what you want to see from him. Hopefully, he can keep these things going.” – Fournier on Okeke.

INJURY UPDATE: Cole Anthony (non-displaced fracture, right rib), Aaron Gordon (left ankle sprain), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are out. Karim Mane (G League/two-way) is not available.

For the Pistons, Delon Wright (right adductor strain) is doubtful, while Blake Griffin (not with team), Killian Hayes (right hip strain), and Jahlil Okafor (left knee surgery) are out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Detroit Pistons beat writer Rod Beard, who covers the team for The Detroit News. He was generous enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Pistons.

Savage: “The sign-and-trade deal of Jerami Grant has obviously paid dividends for Detroit. What have you seen from him this season and what has he meant to this Pistons so far?”

Beard: “I think it’s just the growth that he’s shown in that he was just a role player with the Nuggets and now he’s assumed that number one role. Most people thought that he might be behind Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose as one of the options, and he’s become the main option. When they need a bucket, they can just give it to him. His three-point percentage is somewhere in the high thirties (37.8 percent) and he can score inside. Just getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line has been the biggest surprise. He’s your Swiss Army Knife offensively. All-in-one, whatever you want to get from him, he can do that. He had a forty-three-point game (on Feb. 17) and he’s showing that he can play at an All-Star level. He may not be an All-Star this year, but he can play at that level when he’s needed to.”

Savage: “If you didn’t know him before last week, you know him now as Saddiq Bey was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. What did he show you over that stretch and what’s stood out about him this season?”

Beard: “It’s been the consistency and his ability to step in. (Pistons Head Coach) Dwane Casey always talks about him being a Villanova player and Villanova players are ready to step in the league immediately. He’s seen so many of them like Kyle Lowry that when they get to the league, they don’t have to learn a lot. They’ve learned so much from (head coach) Jay Wright at Villanova. Saddiq Bey is the same sort of way. He’s not loud, he doesn’t need a lot of attention, but he just comes in and just does the things he needs to do. For a rookie, we’ve seen so many of them that are just stage shy and get stage fright from being at this level and playing with guys. He doesn’t seem to shrink in that moment. There are mistakes that he’s going to make, but then he also just does things that you don’t think. (Friday) night against the Grizzlies he had three three-pointers almost in a row, three straight possessions it seemed like. Those sorts of things you don’t see from rookies very often. The fact that he can come in and do those in his first thirty games or so is pretty amazing and pretty encouraging for the Pistons as they’re trying to put things together.”

Savage: “If you’re this Orlando Magic team and you’re playing the Pistons, what are some of the areas you try and exploit and where have you seen other teams have success against them?”

Beard: “It’s been in transition. The Pistons turn the ball over a lot. Against the Grizzlies, I think they had twenty-one and they gave up twenty-four points off of those. They can get sloppy at times and if you’re really hounding them on the ball, then you’re going to be able to create some of those opportunities out in transition and some easy baskets off turnovers. Most teams are going to feed off that. And, the Pistons don’t have a lot of depth at all of their positions. Jahlil Okafor, who they got in the offseason, is out, so they only have two centers. We’re going to see where Delon Wright is in terms of his injury. He had what looked like a groin injury. So, they’re just really short on point guards right now that they don’t have Derrick Rose, they traded him, Delon Wright is hurt. They may have to start either Dennis Smith, who they got a couple of weeks ago, or even a rookie at that point guard spot. So, it’s going to be a tough, tough spot for them to try and have that depth that they need.”


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