The Magic’s victory over the Toronto Raptors could serve as a win that gets their season back on track. Or it could simply be a tease.
That, of course, all depends on how Orlando plays moving forward. Will a blowout win over the team with the best record in the NBA spark a Magic offense that had looked inept for a majority of the month of December? Or will the Magic revert back to the team that struggled to reach 100 points while dropping seven of nine games, including losses to the Bulls and Suns?
The first test comes during a Sunday matinee against the Detroit Pistons, in what will be the final game of the Magic’s homestand before they set out on a six-game road trip. The Pistons (16-17) currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, sitting 1.5 games ahead of Orlando (15-19).
While the Magic are coming off what could be considered their best win of the season (though it hasn’t exactly made believers of all of us), the Pistons are coming off their most lopsided loss of the season.
Following a 125-88 loss in Indiana on Friday, Detroit coach Dwane Casey actually issued an apology to Pistons fans.
“I want to first apologize to the fans of the Detroit Pistons,” Casey told reporters after the game. “That’s one of the worst exhibitions we’ve put out on the floor. We’ve got to have more pride than we played with tonight, more togetherness and all-out play. Indiana outworked us in every facet of the game.”
It was the Pistons’ 10th loss in their last 13 games (odd in that the stretch immediately followed a five-game winning streak that was capped with a win over the Golden State Warriors). After the game, the Pistons held a team meeting.
We’ll see if that closed-door meeting helps the Pistons iron out their issues (some believe it most certainly will not), or if the Magic will give Casey and the Pistons another reason to apologize.
In the first meeting between the two teams, Andre Drummond scored 19 of his 23 points in the first half, and grabbed 19 rebounds, to lead the Pistons to a 103-96 win in Orlando. The Magic, who established a 15-point first quarter lead and led by 11 in the third, held a one-point advantage in the closing minutes but were unable to hold off the Pistons.
That was the game that led to Steve Clifford’s rant about his bench...
“The starters were really good and the bench was ... whoa!” Clifford told reporters after the game. “They were bad. I mean really, really bad. Not competitive in either half. That makes it hard to win in this league.”
The bench remained an issue for the Magic, though some changes Clifford made against the Raptors provided the lift Orlando was so desperate for. Wes Iwundu was first off the bench, and Jonathon Simmons was thrust into the back-up point guard role.
But, truthfully, not much is needed from the bench when Nikola Vucevic posts a 30-point, 20-rebound, 8-assist game as he did versus the Raptors, and D.J. Augustin shoots efficiently (52 percent in last two games), protects the ball (12 assists, 4 turnovers in last two games), and scores in double-figures (the Magic are 12-7 when he does so).
The Magic, with the league’s fourth worst offensive rating at 104.4 points per, have shot 45.8 percent and 47.3 percent respectively in their last two games.
The Pistons, the worst three-point shooting team in the league (32.6 percent), haven’t fared much better this season on the offensive end with a rating of 105.7 (23rd). With Drummond and Blake Griffin in the frontcourt, the Pistons are one of the best rebounding teams in the league, particularly on the offensive glass (12.2 offensive rebounds per game, second best in league).
The two teams are also neck-and-neck in defensive rating, with the Pistons at 107.3 points allowed and the Magic at 108.2.
It’s an important game for the Magic before they set out on the road, starting with a game in Charlotte on Monday in a back-to-back. With wins over the Pistons and the Hornets, the Magic could be sitting in eighth place in the East when the calendar flips to 2019.