Orlando at Detroit
Time: 6:30 PM CST
TV: FSN FL, FSDT
The Orlando Magic are now 15-29 and have lost eight of the past 10 games, but the team is still in the hunt for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, because the current holder of the ticket is the Brooklyn Nets and it sits seven games below .500 in its own right.
A surging Detroit Pistons team will host Orlando, and Detroit has gone 7-3 SU over its past 10 games.
Stan Van Gundy is revamping the Pistons defensive culture that it once thrived on. And that’s been an easier task with a dominant Andre Drummond emerging. In Drummond’s visit to Orlando on Dec. 30 (SVG’s return), he snatched 18 points in the first three quarters before sitting out the rest of a Pistons’ blowout win.
Drummond is too big, to strong, and too athletic for most NBA bigs to have any kind of chance against. Unless it is against the likes of Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan, Drummond will have access to every rebound. He’s currently averaging 13 per game, to go with 12.2 points and 2.74 blocks/steals per game.
Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings is playing with a renewed sense of urgency on the defensive end, and because a point guard is the “head of the snake” so to speak, it has become infectious, with an already above-average defender Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt. The Pistons are able to employ more half court traps, and both Greg Monroe and Drummond are good pick and roll defenders. This seeming minutia is a key factor in the Pistons’ revival.
But the single biggest factor was being able to part ways with Josh Smith. Smith was a disruptive influence and took a lot of horrible shots. That takes teammates out of games, and the Pistons realized the mistake they made when Smith was signed to a max-deal. Most analysts said there was no way Smith was worth that kind of contract; and well, they were all correct about that. Filling the “void” (the shots, in reality) that Smith left has been Jodie Meeks and D.J. Augustin. Both guards are capable of filling it up, and Meeks hit nine threes in the contest on Dec 30 vs Orlando.
The Magic, meanwhile, are starting to get it together but have gone through a tough stretch in their schedule. In the wins over the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets, the Magic scored 120-plus points in both games, both wins.
These contests were played without second-leading scorer Tobias Harris, and also without No. 4 overall selection Aaron Gordon (who is set to return from injury soon). Devyn Marble has proven to be a nice 2nd round pick, while to-be restricted free agent Kyle O’Quinn is a consummate bruiser at the 4/5-spots. Both Harris and Gordon are listed as questionable for tonight’s contest, and Gordon has been on the verge of coming back for a week, about. Expect Gordon to play most likely.
But the real story for the Magic lies in a diverse trio of Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton. The Magic’s core essentially revolves around these guys, and Oladipo is really starting to figure out the NBA game. He’s shooting threes or going right at the rim, not bothering with long twos or all the pitfalls that 2-guards fall into. He’s getting to the line, that is an easy way to put points on the board.
Elfrid Payton is great at keeping his dribble through traffic in the mode of a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo. His decision making processes need some work, but the sheer talent Payton possesses leads to a lot of playmaking, of the spontaneous variety.
Vucevic has been a monster on the boards and possesses about the softest touch imaginable around the basket, with either hand, at that. Vucevic isn’t overly powerful, but when he establishes position from 10-feet and inwards, he has enough finesse and go-to moves that he can find a way to put the ball in the hole.
“Vucci Mane” also become very adept at tip ins and put-backs, something that is another way to aid the team by mopping up the glass. It will help when Payton and Vucevic get more acquainted as teammates, because Vucevic needs to learn that Payton will hit him if he’s open. He can pass through traffic and knows where his teammates are at all times. Eventually, that is going to result in a lot of highlights.
This should be a good battle between two teams fighting for playoff position despite being relatively poor ball clubs. The Magic struggled against the Pistons at home, helping Detroit build on what was then a six-game win streak. With momentum and no distractions impairing on and off court relations, it’s perfectly reasonable to think the Pistons could continue to climb in the conference standings. Tonight will continue that trend, as Detroit wins this SU.