Tonight at 7:00pm EST the Pistons will hit the road again for a Florida trip that starts in Orlando against the Magic. The Pistons are on one day of rest following a blowout win over the Bucks, while the Magic are also on one day of rest after losing to the Raptors.
I believed the Magic would not be awful this year. I picked them to snag the 8th seed. I was wrong. Part of me still thinks if they hadn't had some of the injury issues early in the year they would've stayed competitive but that thought doesn't have much legitimacy anymore. The Magic come into this game sporting the 27th ranked defense by allowing 109.1 points per 100 possessions, while their offense is comparatively not awful by being 19th and an efficiency of 104.7 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers combine to give you the team that currently holds the worst record in the entire NBA.
The magic do have a couple of guys who can play. Aaron Gordan's three point shot has steadily declined from its early-season heights but he is still a great athlete that is versatile and can score in a variety of ways and play defense like crazy. Evan Fournier is a really good shooter, scorer, and one of the more under-appreciated really solid mid-20s players in the NBA. Those two form a solid wing combination that can do some of everything between them, the problem is that neither of them are THAT good and the rest of the roster is a mess at this point. Nikola Vucevic can still score, is a good passer, and has added a three-point shot to his arsenal but at this point it may be fair to assume that any team he plays for will be hopelessly bad on defense. Jonathon Simmons is quietly having a very nice season in a larger role and has to be questioning his decision to go to Orlando where no one cares. He isn't a good shooter but he is still a tenacious defender and attacker of the hoop. D.J. Augustin is starting with Elfrid Payton gone, and he can shoot and score but doesn't play a lick of defense. Shelvin Mack is taking backup point guard duties now and I suppose he is serviceable. Mario Hezonja showing real signs of life as a versatile wing player after the Magic decided not to pick up his option for next season is the most Magic thing ever to happen. Bismack Biyombo is a legit defender but he does almost as much damage to your offense as Vucevic does to your defense. Jonathan Isaac is a bouncy joy who defends and plays hard but he is pretty limited beyond that at this point. Rashad Vaughn is here now, he's worthwhile for them to take a look at after the Bucks got rid of him but he still probably can't do much beyond shoot a bit.
This team is bad. They have some life on the wings between Gordon, Fournier, Simmons, and even Hezonja now. Unfortunately having a backup point guard starting is not good for your offense even if they are a good backup, something Pistons fans know all to well, their centers both kill them on one end of the floor, and their bench is kind of a mess at this point. They are not good. Win.
Matchups to watch:
Griffin vs. Gordon: This is the marquee matchup. Gordon is more perimeter oriented on both ends than Griffin is, but they will match up for a lot of the game. Griffin should have the advantage inside, but Gordon will likely give Griffin some problems on the perimeter. Hopefully Griffin builds on his defensive performance against the Bucks.
Bench mob vs. Being relentless: The Pistons new bench mob should probably never change. They play with so much energy and seem to enjoy smacking other people in the gut constantly. The Magic bench is very bad, hopefully the Pistons can get an encore performance.
Drummond vs. Vucevic: For all of his faults on defense, Vucevic is a very good offensive player. The good news is that still doesn't draw fouls so Drummond isn't likely to get into trouble there, but it will be a challenge to defend him. Hopefully Drummond can get at the ground-bound Vucevic on the other end too.
Griffin vs. Not getting stagnant: I've started to pick this up as a trend. A lot of the possessions where the offense looks bad and lost feature Griffin being either hesitant in his movement, or just not moving at all. I get that he is trying to not screw things up as he learns the offense, but I'd say the same thing I've said about Stanley Johnson forever. We can live with mistakes as long as they are made at full speed. Take a page out of Andre Drummond's book and learn to go thump someone with a screen for no reason other than to just let them know you can, swap floors just to make the defense know you are there. Go get it.
Reggie Bullock vs. Tipping the right way: The Pistons have put the ball in Bullock's hands more with dribble hand-offs lately. This is a good idea at least until Reggie Jackson comes back. But Bullock has struggled a bit to hit shots and make decisions so that he is right on the edge of it being a positive play to run. He needs to hit just enough shots and make just enough passes that he is coming out on top.
Pistons vs. Not screwing around: If there was a game for the Pistons to get a blowout early it would be this one. Tomorrow the Pistons turn around and will be in Miami for a hugely important game, but it will be a back to back and third in four nights. The Pistons got some extra rest against the Bucks, if they could do it again so they are still somewhat fresh for that game it will be big.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
The Pistons front-court is just too much.
The Pistons bench steamrolls again.
Run for the hills if:
Aron Gordon is nailing open threes while Griffin falls behind him consistently.
The last game was an anomaly and the Pistons bench plays poorly.
The game goes into overtime thusly making tomorrow's game a nearly impossible task.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Reggie Bullock scores more than 20 points.
The Pistons bench rolls.
Griffin and Drummond repeat their performance of solid if not overly remarkable performances.
The Pistons follow a similar outline as the last game, slowly pulling away until they bust it open at some point in the second half.
Pistons 116 – Magic 93.
What do you think? Can the Pistons set themselves up for a showdown with Miami? Can Griffin contain Gordon?