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Magic vs. Pistons preview: A playoff-like ‘Showdown in Motown’

The eighth-seeded Magic and seventh-seeded Pistons, separated by a half game, battle for playoff positioning

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

From a Sunshine State Showdown to a Showdown in Motown.

The most important week for the Orlando Magic continues with another game that will have a playoff atmosphere and postseason-like importance.

With the Magic coming off a crucial comeback victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday that placed them in the eighth spot in the East, the Magic now travel to Detroit to face the seventh-seeded Pistons. Detroit had been sitting rather comfortably in the sixth spot before going 1-4 on a five-game road trip. They now hold a half-game lead over the Magic, who are seeking a seventh consecutive win that would put them at .500 for the season.

The Pistons hold a 2-1 season series advantage over the Magic, making it all the more important for Orlando to emerge with a victory and trigger the secondary tiebreakers (the first of which goes to a division leader, which the Magic currently are).

“Playoff game. Finals game,” Pistons guard Wayne Ellington told reporters of the match-up with Orlando. “They went into Miami and took care of business with six in a row,” guard Wayne Ellington said. “They have that sense of urgency right now and we have to turn ours up. We can’t let anybody come in our house and take a game that’s so important.”

The Pistons sit just a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the sixth seed, while the Magic are one game back. The site FiveThirtyEight currently gives the Pistons a 95 percent chance of making the playoffs, the Magic an 81 percent chance, the Nets a 78 percent chance, the Heat a 30 percent chance, and the Hornets a 16 percent chance. Reason being? The remaining schedules clearly favors Detroit....

-The Pistons close the season with five of eight games at home where they are 23-13 (and one of their road games is against the league-worst Knicks)

-The Magic are currently on a challenging four-game road trip and have just two home games over their final seven overall

-The Nets, having lost four of six games, essentially face the East’s elite for the remainder of the season (at Philly, vs. Boston, vs. Milwaukee, vs. Toronto, at Milwaukee, at Indiana, vs. Miami)

-The Hornets close out the season with six of their final eight games on the road, including an oddly-timed, late-season four-game Western road trip.

So there is plenty of room for movement within the bottom three seeds in the Eastern Conference.

The Magic, on their longest winning streak since January of 2011, have been carried by what has been a league-best defense over the last two months. Currently tied for fifth in defensive rating with the Boston Celtics at 107.0 points per 100 possessions, the Magic since January 31 have gone 17-7 and held opponents under 100 points in 11 of 24 games, including in five of their last six.

While the Magic are surging, the Pistons have been headed in the opposite correction, setting the stage for the two teams to potentially cross paths in the standings on Thursday.

Detroit is coming off a 95-92 loss to the Nuggets, in which they nearly erased a 27-point deficit. Like the Magic, the Pistons are more of a defensive-minded team. They are just outside the top-10 in defensive rating, allowing 108.9 points per (12th), and in the bottom third of the league offensively with a rating of 108.9 (21st).

The Pistons are difficult to beat on their home court, having won nine straight games in Detroit. To earn a road victory, the Magic will obviously have to contain the Pistons’ frontcourt duo of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Like most teams, Orlando has struggled to contain Drummond on the glass this season, allowing the big man to grab 18.7 rebounds per in three games. Griffin, averaging 24.7 points and 7.6 rebounds this season, had been limited to averages of 21.7 points and 3.7 rebounds against Orlando this season.

The suddenly elite Orlando defense is up for the challenge.

With a Magic win over the Pistons, and a Nets loss to the Sixers, Orlando would not only leapfrog the Pistons in the standings, they would also be tied record-wise with Brooklyn for the sixth seed (the Nets own the tiebreaker with a 2-1 season series win).

Let the playoff push continue....