Tonight at 7:00pm EST the Pistons will be in Orlando to play against the Magic. The Pistons will be on one day of rest following thrashing of the Pacers on Tuesday. The Magic are also on one day of rest following a loss to the Heat.
The Orlando Magic will come into the game with a miserable 23rd ranked offense that scores 102.7 points per 100 possessions and an even worse defense that allows 108.2 points per 100 possessions which is good for 26th in the NBA.
That said, they are probably not as bad as their 27th best net rating of -5.5 or their 11-24 record. They famously started off the year surprisingly well and then fell off a cliff, but when looking closer a big reason they fell off a cliff was a pretty tough stretch of schedule. Following their 8-4 start they went on a 10 game losing streak where the worst team they played was the Utah Jazz. They got destroyed in a lot of those games so it is different, but Pistons fans can relate to losing a bunch of games to good teams. Following that stretch they seemed to have maybe started to even out by winning a few games, at which point they were promptly destroyed by injuries. First Terrence Ross fell, then the killer was that Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon (their two best players) both got hurt for a period which put the team into a full on tailspin. Evan Fournier is back and playing tonight and Gordon is probable though may possibly not. Which of course means that Nikola Vucevic got hurt and will now be missing significant time.
The Magic are indeed lead by Fournier and Gordon as a dynamic duo of wing players. Gordon is a freak athlete who has finally found a jump shot (shooting 40.1% on 5.5 threes per game) who is also a very capable defensive player. Evan Fournier is a sweet shooter with a smooth offensive game to create looks from a variety of angles. Both players are averaging just over 18 points per game on a true shooting percentage of nearly 60%. If those two play then this is a very different team than the one the Pistons beat a week ago, but it is still pretty thin beyond them. Jonathan Simmons is still a really good and versatile player who can do a bit of everything although he has not been as effective since moving to the starting lineup. The Elfrid Payton experiment is probably on its last legs, but he can still pass the ball, rebound, and score inside a bit and has found at least some semblance of shooting touch on very low volume. D.J. Augustin is still a potentially electric scorer who can't really defend anything, Jonathan Isaac is a super bouncy defender who looks promising at 20 years old. Bismack Biyombo can block some shots and can rebound but does very little beyond that and despite his shot blocking abilities isn't all that effective as a defender. Arron Afflalo should probably just retire at this point to be honest, Marreese Speights is still chucking away. In some good news that is also almost certainly painful for Magic fans is that Mario Henzonja has actually looked like an NBA player since being pressed into starting duty, averaging 14 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 48.1% from the field and 40% from deep for a true shooting percentage of 59.9%. If Gordon returns tonight I don't know if they will bump Henzonja or Simmons to the bench but regardless, Henzonja has found some game.
They are in such a hole at this point that it would take a minor miracle for them to get back in the playoff race but it is possible. The Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 at the turn of the new year a few years back and ended up winning 44 games and getting the 5th seed. Regardless, they are probably better than their record, even if they stay not very good all year.
Matchups to watch:
Pistons vs. Next man up: Reggie Jackson is gone for at least 2 months. Everything about this is the biggest thing to watch for tonight. How the rotation looks, how the offense runs, how the bench adjusts, everything.
Tobias Harris vs. Getting it done: Special pressure will fall on Tobias Harris with Reggie Jackson out. Harris is now the unquestioned primary offensive option and he will be under big pressure to succeed.
Pistons vs. Fournier/Gordon: Both guys are versatile scorers who can hurt you in a variety of ways. Stanley Johnson can only guard one of them so someone, whether it be Tobias Harris, Reggie Bullock, Anthony Tolliver, whoever, will have to step up defensively.
Drummond vs. The Fishing Village: Biyombo will block some shots but he shouldn't be able to really hold up against Drummond. Andre will be challenged to succeed without Jackson getting him dunks and easy put backs but this game should not be a huge challenge for him.
Pistons vs. Good vibes: After this game the Pistons are going into a tough stretch against the Spurs, Heat, Sixers, and Rockets. It will be important to take this game since it is probably their most winnable game for a couple of weeks.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Andre Drummond Stronk.
Gordon and Fournier both look a bit sluggish and out of sync.
Tobias Harris is up to the challenge.
Run for the hills if:
The half court offense is causing bystander's eyes to bleed.
Fournier or Gordon starts to score many points.
Mario Hezonja goes off again because that was insane the last time the Pistons played the magic.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Tobias Harris is up for it tonight.
Andre Drummond is awesome.
Even Fournier gives the Pistons problems.
The Pistons have a really good team game on their way to a competitive win.
Pistons 106 – Magic 99.
What do you think? How will the team respond to the news about Jackson? Can Tobias step up?