Orlando Magic at Detroit Pistons: Game Preview

Cole Anthony
by Dan Savage

The Orlando Magic have shown flashes of their potential early this season.

They’ve gone on the road and defeated a playoff-caliber club in the Knicks, their rookies have displayed the characteristics that made them so attractive as top-10 prospects, and their starting lineup has delivered a net rating that ranks at the top of the league.

They’ve also been in competitive situations in three straight fourth quarters against quality clubs. Unfortunately for the Magic, their youth and inexperience in those outings has also been their downfall as untimely turnovers have led to three straight defeats.

Now, the Magic (1-5) will look to build on their early season late-game experience and notch their second victory of their 2021-22 campaign when they pay a visit to the Detroit Pistons (0-4) on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

The matchup comes one night after Orlando went into Toronto and nearly mounted a 12-point fourth-quarter comeback before the Raptors’ Gary Trent Jr. disrupted Cole Anthony’s attempt to pull off a thrilling victory.

“That’s the thing about this team. That’s who we are,” Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley said of his team’s effort. “We’re going to keep fighting until that final horn goes off. Down the stretch, obviously, we regrouped. We got ourselves together in the huddle to understand the (final) play that we’re going to run. We were going to get a good look at it, (Trent) got a hand on the ball and killed some clock time. Again, they executed that portion of it. (Got) the ball inbounds the right way. And as he came down, he just got a hand on the ball at the right time.”

Despite the defeat, there was plenty to be optimistic about as it pertains to Orlando’s future.

For starters, their rookies look legit. Jalen Suggs overcame a hostile crowd environment and fired off a career-best 21 points to go along with four assists. Wagner, meanwhile, scored 10 and connected on a clutch triple with 33.2 seconds left that trimmed the Magic’s deficit to one.

“(Suggs) is learning, he’s growing, he’s competitive and there’s a level of trust there that he understands when and what to do (as it pertains) to certain things,” Mosley explained. “These are the experiences that are going to help these guys grow and get better.”

Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., and Mo Bamba also all continued their strong starts.

Anthony went a scorching 5-for-6 from distance on his way to 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Carter (17 points and 10 rebounds) and Bamba (14 points and career-high 18 rebounds) each notched double-doubles.

“We’re right there,” Anthony said. “Look, these past two games, they were both winnable games. We had some young mistakes, but we’re going to fix those. Those will come with time. I’m excited for us.”

IN AND OUT: There’s some positive news to report in the Magic’s injury department. Chuma Okeke (right hip; bone bruise) is listed as probable for Orlando’s matchup against Detroit.

The contest would mark the first appearance for Okeke this season. The second-year versatile forward averaged 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a team-best 1.6 steals per game in 17 contests after the trade deadline last season.

Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) all remain out for Orlando. Mychal Mulder (G League – Two-Way) is also unavailable.

For the Pistons, Jerami Grant (right oblique contusion) is probable, while Isaiah Livers (right foot) and Chris Smith (G League – Two-Way) are out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Just regroup, get some rest, and go out there and give Detroit all we’ve got. We’re young. A lot of guys – myself included – are not used to playing these high minutes, but at the end of the day, we’re men.” – Bamba on the team’s mindset heading into the second night of a back-to-back

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 generous enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Pistons.

*Note: This conversation took place on Friday prior to the removal of Cade Cunningham from the team’s injury report.

Savage: “I imagine you’ve been on Cade Cunningham watch to start the season. What’s the latest about the number one overall pick from this year’s draft?”

Sankofa: “He suffered that minor ankle (injury) at the beginning of training camp, and it’s been almost a month now. They started to ramp him back up a little bit more and he spent this week with the Motor City Cruise just getting additional reps in. He was doing that while the team was on their road trip, which they got back from (on Friday). He practiced with the team (on Friday). Sounds like he did some offensive drill work. It does seem as though he’s getting pretty close to returning here. If he were to come back (on Saturday) against the Magic, I wouldn’t be surprised. I know fans are waiting with bated breath to see exactly when that’s going to be.”

Savage: “Some of the Pistons long-term success depends on the development of Killian Hayes. What have you seen from him so far this season?”

Sankofa: “He’s been a bit up and down. He only shot one for eleven during his first two games. The Pistons as a whole, they’ve been the NBA’s worst offensive team. That’s not because of Killian. They’ve struggled to shoot the ball. So, I think it’s been a little tough for him to get settled into a rhythm. I do think that he’s on a slight upswing right now. He played pretty well during (Thursday) night’s game against Philadelphia 76ers. The Pistons almost mounted a twenty-two-point comeback. Killian was a big part of that. He had five points and a couple of assists during that run. Both assists were (to) three-pointers. He had a really key offensive rebound and putback. So, we’re starting to see some signs of life. I think the thing with Killian is that was only his thirtieth NBA game. In the grand scheme, he’s still pretty early in his career. With that, he’s the seventh overall pick (in the 2020 NBA Draft). I think you certainly want to see him make some strides towards being the starting point guard they need him to be, and he hasn’t quite been that yet. So, certainly a lot of down so far, but at the same time, he’s been doing some of the things you would want to see him do and he’s certainly been better each game compared to the previous game. There’s an upward trajectory here, which the coaching staff wants to see for sure.”

Savage: “For Magic fans, who don’t watch the Pistons as closely, what’s one other thing that they should pay attention to in this matchup on Saturday?”

Sankofa: “Jerami Grant, the Pistons breakout player last year, who got some All-Star consideration, has been nursing an elbow injury. The team characterized it as a left-elbow infection, and he actually missed Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks with that. He came back (on Thursday) night and it looked like he tweaked it in the first quarter. He tripped over a teammates foot and when he got back up, he was clinching towards that left elbow. So, it sounds like he’s good to go. He’s going to play through it, but he hasn’t been quite as strong offensively as he was last season. I’m sure the elbow has something to do with that.

The Pistons have struggled out of the gate shooting it and Jerami Grant is already a little banged up. That probably creates an opportunity for the Magic to steal one at the LCA (Little Caesars Arena). With that, we’ve seen some players step up. Saddiq Bey finally found his shot (on Thursday) night. He went four-for-nine from three. He’s been doing a lot. He’s been getting to the rim (and) he’s been passing. Those are two things that really weren’t part of his game last season. It looks like he’s making a bit of a leap as a sophomore player. So, we’ll just have to see what those two guys look like, but certainly with Jerami Grant hurt that can create an opportunity for the Magic to come in and take advantage of that for sure.”

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