Amidst two missing all-stars, a Ryan Anderson ankle injury and some as-usual foul trouble, the Orlando Magic defeated the Detroit Pistons 110-103. Even with all of the built-in excuses, the Magic grabbed a huge early lead and looked primed for an easy victory. But the Pistons battled back, eventually making a game of it in the fourth quarter. Dwight Howard led the Magic with 22 points and 12 rebounds, while five other Magic players were in double digits.
1. After a furious first quarter, the Magic were outscored by 10 points the rest of the way. Orlando jumped out to an 18-3 lead and it looked like the Magic were taking out their frustrations on the poor Pistons and headed for a blowout victory — that is, until, the Pistons remembered who they were and began chipping away at the lead. The Magic were up 40-23 after the first quarter, but the Pistons won every quarter after that and made things interesting in the final minutes, thanks to some spot-on shooting from Charlie Villanueva (11-of-17, 28 points; he hit jumpers on four consecutive possessions down the stretch). Like Stan Van Gundy said after the game, the Magic seemed content to hold on for the victory, rather than erase the Pistons early on.
2. Despite more foul trouble, Dwight Howard was great. Howard fouled out — again — but he was incredibly efficient while on he floor. He went 7-for-8 from the field, 8-for-9 from the free throw line, had only one turnover despite receiving the ball in the post constantly on his way to 2 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks. I think he’s a much-improved player from last season — the changes are subtle, but he’s more crisp and polished in the post.
3. Talk about depth; Orlando’s projected non-starters scored 67 points tonight. With Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis missing in action, the Magic were already shorthanded. And then, in the third quarter, Ryan Anderson came up lame with a sprained ankle. The Magic were down to eight active players, including some in foul trouble. That led to some kooky lineups, such as Jameer Nelson and Jason Williams sharing the floor at the same time. But you have to appreciate what the Magic’s “reserves” were able to do: Matt Barnes, 18 points; JJ Redick, 16 points; Brandon Bass, 13 points. All of these guys probably didn’t expect to be in this position so early, but they’re stepping up to the challenge.
If you’re a Magic fan, you take a win over the Detroit Pistons no matter the circumstance. After losing 20 of the past 25 meetings, a win over Detroit feels as good as any seven-point regular season victory can. Or not. Nice win, though. As mentioned above, Howard’s play and the play of the reserves get a thumbs up. Also, after struggling mightily on Tuesday, it was nice to see Jameer Nelson respond with a quality performance. Nelson posted 18 points and 8 assists, hitting 8-of-15 shots. Ryan Anderson, who went 1-for-11 from three-point range on Tuesday night, scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting before spraining his ankle. The Magic also did a better job defensively in the backcourt. Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum combined to score 65 points on Tuesday night; on Friday night they only scored 41.
Charlie Villanueva absolutely torched Orlando’s defense, sinking a variety of mid-range jumpers and baskets out of the post. Nobody seemed comfortable guarding him, as Brandon Bass didn’t want to stray that far from the basket and Matt Barnes is a little too small to control Villanueva in the post — those matchup problems are likely a big reason why the Pistons offered Villanueva a big contract this summer. Overall, the Magic weren’t very active defensively. In fact, if the Pistons make a better percentage of their free throws — they went 23 of 37, or 62 percent — this game might end differently. You could argue the game was won on the free-throw line, as the Magic made an uncharacteristically high 85.7 percent of their free shots (30-for-35). And, as talked about previously, it would’ve been nice for the Magic to put the Pistons away when they had the chance.