A new 1-2 punch at point guard helps Pistons turn the tables on Orlando
Fernando Medina (NBAE via Getty Images)
Three quick observations from Tuesday night’s 105-93 win over the Orlando Magic at Amway Center
POINT GUARD PUNCH – The Pistons opened the season with Killian Hayes and Derrick Rose splitting minutes at point guard and Delon Wright sliding over when needed to assist with lead guard duty. Change is a constant for this season’s Pistons, though, and even after bringing back only four players from 2019-20, change continues into the season. Wright and Hayes are injured and Rose was traded, so it was Dennis Smith Jr. and rookie Saben Lee at the controls for Tuesday’s win at Orlando – and they had as much to do with the win as anyone. Smith scored 14 points and hit 6 of 9 shots. Lee, coming off a 12-point, five-assist game with his first extended minutes (33) of the season in Sunday’s loss, again put a charge into the Pistons, finishing with 21 points and four assists. He hit the first three 3-point shots of his NBA career and did it without a miss, hitting 8 of 11 shots overall. The Pistons came in shooting 29.2 percent over their last three games from the 3-point line and they didn’t help themselves much from there in this one, either, hitting only 29.4 percent. But they clamped down on defense, holding Orlando to 37.5 percent. When the Magic beat the Pistons on Sunday, they got a combined 83 points from Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrance Ross. This time, those three combined for 47 points.
NO ALL-STARS – Jerami Grant faced an uphill battle to crack the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team with the Pistons spending much of the first two months in last place in the conference. The All-Star reserves were announced Tuesday night and Grant didn’t make the cut. Named to the team in a vote of NBA coaches were Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, New York’s Julius Randle, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Chicago’s Zach LaVine, Brooklyn’s James Harden and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons. Grant is averaging career highs in points (23.5) and minutes per game (36.4). He finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists.The East All-Star starters are Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Washington’s Bradley Beal. That makes two straight seasons without an All-Star for the Pistons since Blake Griffin was named to the team in 2018-19 and Andre Drummond in 2017-18.
ELLINGTON SITS – Veteran Wayne Ellington, the Pistons elder statesman at 33 years old and in his 12th NBA season, sat out for rest on the advice of the Pistons medical team, Dwane Casey said, with Tuesday’s game at Orlando the first of a back to back. That meant more opportunity for Svi Mykhailiuk, who made his first start of the season, and Frank Jackson, like Saben Lee playing on a two-way contract and making his first appearance since Feb. 5. Mykhailiuk again struggled from the 3-point arc, finishing 1 of 5, but wound up with nine points, three rebounds and three assists. Jackson played 12 minutes and had three points, two rebounds and two assists. Ellington is averaging 10.3 points over 23 games, 20 as the starter. Elllington missed two games earlier this month with a calf injury and has been slumping from the 3-point line. After shooting a sizzling 52.2 percent from three in January, when Ellington became just the eighth player in NBA history to make at least four 3-pointers in seven straight games, he’s shot 21.9 percent from the arc in February.