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Orlando Magic 90, Detroit Pistons 79

Formidable second-half defense and timely three-point shooting in the fourth quarter boosted the Orlando Magic to a 90-79 victory over the visiting Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night. After a strong first half, the Pistons mustered only 34 points in the final 24 minutes, while the Magic sank 6 of their 9 tries from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter to bury a stubborn Detroit team that led for much of the game. Rashard Lewis scored 20 points to lead everyone, with his trey at the 1:19 mark of the fourth giving Orlando a 9-point lead, essentially clinching the contest. Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus scored 13 apiece and J.J. Redick added 10 for the Magic, whose offense hummed, after some first-half trouble, despite Dwight Howard's lack of involvement. Detroit denied the Magic's franchise center inside position for much of the game and proved stubbornly effective at poking the ball away once he established himself; he finished with 9 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 6 turnovers, but it hardly mattered in the end.

Tayshaun Prince scored 12 of his Detroit-high 16 points in the first half as the Magic's defense struggled to stay organized. It appeared as though Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy wanted to experiment tonight with some trapping double-team schemes on the Pistons' perimeter players, but to Detroit's credit, it beat them expertly with crisp, decisive ball movement and admirably accurate shooting in the first half. The Magic's defense reverted to form after intermission, however, and played the passing lanes well, stealing or deflecting numerous cross-court and skip pass tries by the visitors. With their ball movement stymied, outside shots dropping less accurately, struggles to earn free-throws, and an utter lack of an inside presence, the Pistons looked every bit like the 6-win team they are in the second half, and I credit Orlando for straightening its defensive issues out at halftime and executing a solid, second-half gameplan on both ends.

Carter shot only 6-of-14 from the floor in his return from the sprained left knee injury which sidelined him for the Magic's last 3 games, but he scored 9 points in the third quarter to spark Orlando back into the lead. In one 20-second stretch in the period's waning minutes, he followed in a missed Howard bank-shot attempt with an emphatic, two-handed stuff, then hit an impossible three-pointer, drifting to his right, into the right corner, with absolutely no daylight, off a great feed from Chris Duhon. His activity and engagement on the defensive end was also outstanding, as he finished with 2 steals and several more deflections. In other words, don't let the poor shooting fool you: Carter was key in this win.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Pistons 84 94.3 45.3% 14.7 20.5 17.9
Magic 81 111.7 53.4% 16.4 26.3 16.1
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Based solely on the final score and the Four Factors stats listed above, you may come away with the feeling Orlando dominated this game from start to finish, but you'd be wrong. Detroit came out of the gate executing its offense well, running at the proper times, and generally looking like the powerhouse Pistons teams of the early-and-mid aughts. Rodney Stuckey's jumper at the 5:56 mark of the opening period gave the Pistons a 20-8 lead, and Van Gundy burned two timeouts in the first five minutes of the game to try firing up his team. Detroit had all the answers early, and the Magic helped them out with sloppy ball movement and poor transition defense. Getting back defensively ought not be too tough a task against the glacially paced Pistons, who average only 89.5 possessions per game and finished tonight with an even lower 84, but kudos to Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince for pushing the ball aggressively.

The Pistons held a five-point edge after the first quarter, and the next two proceeded as some NBA contests tend to, with teams trading mini runs, and neither taking command. Were it not for the Magic's late three-point barrage, this game could easily have gone to overtime, or the closing minute. I think the Pistons slipped a bit defensively as the game wore on; Magic color analyst Matt Guokas pointed out several occasions where Pistons players were grabbing their shorts, obviously winded, in the second half. If fatigue set in for Orlando, it didn't quite show.

I think Van Gundy will be pleased with his team's ability to close an opponent, who'd played reasonably well for much of the game, out in the latter stages of the fourth. However, the Magic's discouraging trend of coming out with iffy focus and effort against mediocre teams continued tonight, which is really a problem Van Gundy would like to nip in the bud, I suspect. Based on observation only, it looked like Detroit was quicker to a lot of 50/50 balls tonight, but the stats don't bear that out. Despite some friendly balls bouncing the Pistons' way, Orlando held a solid 41-36 advantage on the glass tonight and committed fewer turnovers.

On a final note, tonight's game looks like a potential template for Lewis to follow offensively as teams continue to limit his three-point opportunities, and as he eases back into playing small forward, as Brandon Bass continues to gobble up minutes at the four. Lewis scored his 20 points with the benefit of only two three-pointers and four made foul shots, as he shot 5-of-6 from inside the arc. It's only the fourth time in his 249-game Orlando career he's scored that many points with so few treys and free-throws. Like it or not, he's going to have to become a more proficient two-point shooter off the bounce, and he'll need to scoot behind defenses for easy layups more often as well. Teams won't continue letting him camp out beyond the arc, and here's how he can adjust.