Pistons defeat injury-depleted Magic
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — On a normal night, the Pistons beating Orlando would be seen as a definite sign of progress.
This wasn't that night.
Detroit took advantage of a Magic team that was missing Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson and Jameer Nelson — its three leading scorers — and picked up a second straight win, 102-97.
The Pistons weren't going to let that fact diminish the victory.
"It definitely helped — obviously, Dwight is one of the elite paint protectors in the league, but you play with the guys you have," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. "Even though they did not have three of their key guys, they still have quality players, and we did enough good things tonight to get the win."
The game was tied at 74 going into the fourth quarter, but the Pistons dominated the final period. Even with leading scorer Rodney Stuckey (hamstring) out, the Pistons hit 67 percent of their shots, only turned the ball over once and held the Magic without an offensive rebound.
"Our second unit was great there at the start of the fourth quarter," Tayshaun Prince said. "They picked up the defensive energy, and that's what was able to get us through the game."
Jonas Jerebko had seven of his 13 points in the fourth and felt that the Pistons had to prove something with Orlando shorthanded.
"Tayshaun brought it up before the game — we couldn't take the game lightly just because Dwight isn't playing," he said. "A year or two ago, they played us without Dwight and beat us by 20. Everyone in this league can play. You can't afford to think like that."
While the Magic obviously missed their injured players on the offensive end, it was the other side of the game that really let them down. Detroit shot 57 percent for the game.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy knows that some of Orlando's defensive woes came from the absence of Howard — the NBA's best defender since Ben Wallace's prime — but he was disgusted that the rest of the team didn't step up their game.
"We didn't play any defense," Van Gundy said. "Obviously, Dwight would have helped, but we just don't guard. If that doesn't change in the next three weeks, we're not going anywhere, because this defense isn't going to cut it in the playoffs."
Glen Davis did everything in his power to replace Howard — he scored a career-high 31 points and pulled down 10 rebounds — but he's not even close defensively. Davis didn't speak to the media after the game, but Jason Richardson agreed with his coach.
"We got relaxed on the defensive end, and it cost us the game," the former Spartan said. "We've got to be able to play defense without Dwight. He might get banged up in the playoffs, or he might get in foul trouble, and then what do we do? We can't just rely on him. We've all got to man up and do our jobs."
After beating the Bobcats and the undermanned Magic, the Pistons will go for three in a row on Thursday. Once again, they will be playing one of the NBA's least dangerous teams — the 12-41 Washington Wizards.
But after needing overtime to beat Charlotte and a fourth-quarter surge to finish off the Magic, the Pistons know that nothing is guaranteed — even against the hapless Wizards.
"Anybody in this league can beat anybody on any given night," Jerebko said. "Nothing gets taken lightly in this game."