Orlando Magic at Detroit Pistons: Game Preview

Cole Anthony
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- The Orlando Magic have planned on using the remainder of the season to help their young group develop winning habits and closely examine what some of these players can offer them next season.

If their thrilling comeback victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on the second night of a back-to-back – while shorthanded, with the postseason out of sight and travel mixed in – is any indication, this young Magic group has a strong desire to win regardless of the circumstances.

Now, Orlando (20-44) will attempt to put forth another gritty performance when it visits the equally shorthanded Detroit Pistons (19-45) on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.

“Look, I’ve been saying this for a while, I like this team a lot,” said rookie point guard Cole Anthony, who scored a career-high 26 points against Memphis on Saturday and made the game-winning triple with 0.1 seconds left. “(That victory) tells you a lot about us. Look, when you’re shorthanded all season – we’ve had dudes injured left and right – you look at that game and you look at our record, it doesn’t add up. Everyone is hungry on this team. We’ve had some dudes step up.”

Anthony is one of those players. Since returning from a rib injury that forced him to miss 25 games, Anthony has averaged 14.9 points on 42.9 percent shooting from the field and 33.9 percent from 3-point range. He’s also has scored in double figures in 13 of those 14 games.

“He likes big moments,” Magic acting head coach Ty Corbin said. “I think that kid is going to do a lot of that in his career if he keeps growing like he’s been growing the last couple months of this season.”

R.J. Hampton and recent addition Moritz Wagner will also look to build on spectacular performances. Hampton was aggressive and in attack mode all night as he scored a career-high 18 points off the bench. Wagner posted a season-best 24 points, while also grabbing five boards and blocking two shots.

“It’s the end of the season and everybody is hurting,” Wagner said. “Even though (we’re) eliminated from the playoffs, all of these games matter. That stuff goes a long way. I believe in that. If you play hard and take every possession very serious, it’s going to work out for you eventually. With that belief and that kind of confidence, you have to go into these games and make the best out of your opportunity.”

QUOTE TO NOTE: There are players that are great at giving walk-off interviews and then there’s Anthony. He proven that his sessions after game-winning buckets are must-watch TV.

It’s hard to say whether his game-winning 3-pointer or his subsequent chat with Bally Sports Florida’s Dante Marchitelli drew more attention on Saturday night. As a result, you can watch the full interview here and decide for yourself, which quote is the one to note:

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Gary Harris (neck pain) is probable, while Devin Cannady (right ankle; open dislocation), Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle), James Ennis III (sore right calf), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), Chuma Okeke (sprained left ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot pain), and Terrence Ross (back spasms) are out.

For Detroit, Hamidou Diallo (right knee soreness) is questionable, while Wayne Ellington (bilateral calf strain), Jerami Grant (right knee soreness), Cory Joseph (left ankle soreness), Rodney McGruder (left ankle soreness), Jahlil Okafor (not with team), Mason Plumlee (rest), and Dennis Smith Jr. (left knee soreness) are out.

KEY STAT: Since the 1996-97 season, only three NBA players in their rookie campaign have made two or more last-second game-winning shots. One of them is Anthony, who most recently drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second left against the Grizzlies on Saturday at Amway Center. Read more about that here.

In the process, Anthony, who notched 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists, became the first Magic rookie with a 25/5/5 game since Victor Oladipo per StatMuse.

UPDATE ON CLIFFORD: Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford cleared NBA health and safety protocols on Monday. While he will not coach against the Pistons, as the team traveled Sunday, Clifford will be back on the bench Wednesday when Orlando hosts the Boston Celtics.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Detroit Pistons beat writer Omari Sankofa II, who covers the team for the Detroit Free Press. He was kind enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Pistons.

Savage: “The Pistons have a lengthy injury report, much like the Magic. With all those guys out, who should we expect to carry the offensive load for Detroit tonight against Orlando?”

Sankofa: “On nights like this, we’ve seen Josh Jackson really step up for the Pistons. I think about this point last week, in the month of April he was averaging about sixteen points per game. He’s a guy that really has that aggressive scoring mindset, really for this group, with so many guys on the team that are younger than twenty-two. With Josh being twenty-four, (Pistons head coach) Dwane Casey said last week that he almost kind of becomes the veteran of this group. Certainly, expect him to step into that scoring role. We could also see a bigger night from Saddiq Bey. He probably won’t be the Rookie of the Year, but he’s had a really good rookie season. He recently set the record for most games as a rookie with more than five three-pointers. He has ten. I think Steph Curry had the previous record with nine. We’ve seen him, he has the capability to heat up in a hurry and really explode. You look at the box score, he has twelve points. Then you look again, and he has twenty-two. Those two guys specifically can really step up tonight.”

Savage: “When you look at this Pistons team, what is the position group that’s been hit hardest by the injuries? Where are they the thinnest currently?”

Sankofa: “I would say the guard rotation has been hit pretty hard. We saw Hamidou Diallo miss the last game with knee soreness. Dennis Smith Jr. has really only played a handful of games since mid-March. He’s battling some knee soreness. We’ve seen Wayne Ellington miss some games just because of rest. And really, it’s only been a month since Killian Hayes has come back, obviously, the seventh overall pick last year. So, we’ve seen a cycle of guys in and out of that guard rotation. We’ve seen guys like Josh Jackson start off the year playing more shooting guard and as of late, he’s been more of a small forward. I would say for the most part the guard rotation has been hit the hardest, but as of late it’s been a little bit more even up and down the roster. They’ve been resting Mason Plumlee a good bit. Jerami Grant, who plays the three and the four, (has been out). Late in the season, they want guys to be healthy going into the offseason. It was the guard rotation for a bit, but now, it’s been pretty even up and down the roster.”

Savage: “When you talk to the Pistons, what are they trying to get out of these final eight games before the end of the season?”

Sankofa: “They really want to get a good look at their young players, especially some of the ones that are more on the cusp of the rotation this season. Sekou Doumbouya, who started the last two games, previously had only started four games this season, (mainly) whenever guys were injured. Sekou, he’s the fifteen pick of 2019 NBA Draft, showed some flashes last year. Showed some this year, but he’s a guy that could really benefit from having the G League, which the Pistons didn’t have this year because they’re transitioning from Grand Rapids Drive to the Motor City Cruise. They didn’t bring the Drive out to the G League bubble, so it kind of hurt from the standpoint of giving guys like Sekou Doumbouya, Tyler Cook, and Saben Lee the extra minutes and reps that they probably need. Dwane did say that he wants to get some more looks at Sekou down the stretch. He started the last two games, and it wouldn’t surprise me if in the next eight games, he gets another two or three starts in there. Tyler Cook signed a ten-day contract in March that carried him into April and then they signed him to a standard NBA deal. I think he’s been really solid for them. He’s sort of an athletic four that does all of his scoring near the rim. He rebounds, runs the floor hard, talks on defense, and is sort of a nitty-gritty guy. Just does a lot of small things. He played a good bit on Saturday as well with Mason Plumlee out, and Isaiah Stewart got in foul trouble early, so he played the five a bit. The two-way guys as well. Frank Jackson has been really, really good over the last month. I think he’ll continue to play twenty to twenty-five-plus minutes a night. Then, also, Saben Lee, who they took in the second-round last year. He was pretty firmly in the rotation and then has kind of fallen out of it. We could see him a lot more down the stretch as well. Dwane is just going to really focus on getting those guys (minutes), so you have a better idea of where they’re at going into the offseason.”

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