It's too early to make any bold proclamations, but it's safe to say that both the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic didn't want to be entering this tilt with a combined record of 7-14. Both teams have struggled out of the gate with youth and a dearth of talent that has prevented them from overcoming some early injury trouble.
But this being the Eastern Conference and all, the winner of this game can make legitimate claim to being right back into the playoff hunt and they wouldn't be completely out of line.
Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
When: 7:30 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
Exceptionally Detailed Analysis
The Magic have a few things going for them -- one is a low-post anchor in Nikola Vucevic who will grab rebounds and punish teams in the paint; the other is an assortment of quality jump shooters from Vucevic (again), To Channing Frye to Luke Ridnour to Evan Fournier.
What they don't have, yet, is a point guard, and it's really hurting the team. The Magic are throwing out rookie Elfrid Payton, a player with an extremely intriguing skill set but definitely a project. He's like Orlando's version of this year's version of Andre Drummond. Patience required and frustration abounds.
Payton has no jump shot (the knock on him in college) and is hitting just 31.6 percent from the floor. That'd be less of a problem if he was like a young Rajon Rondo -- converting in the lane and racking up assists -- but he's converting at less than a 50 percent rate from within three feet and while he's racking up assists 5.5 in just 26.5 minutes per game, he's also turning the ball over way too much (2.4).
Last year's point guard, Victor Oladipo, was always seen as a more natural two-guard who manned point just to get the experience, and he's just now back on the floor after suffering a facial fracture and still getting his legs under him. But with Payton struggling out the gate, Oladipo is once again the starting point guard for the Magic.
But just as Oladipo is healthy, the Magic have lost rookie Aaron Gordon to a fractured foot, Kyle O'Quinn to a sprained ankle and Luke Ridnour is questionable tonight as well.
The Pistons, meanwhile, are looking to convert silver linings in hard-fought games against the likes of the Bulls, Wizards Grizzlies into actual wins and facing a team like the Magic is as good a place to start as any. The Magic are an NBA-worst 6-42 on the road since the start of last season.
Players to Watch
Detroit: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
KCP is having an up-and-down season to say the least, and with no Jodie Meeks or Cartier Martin there is nobody Stan Van Gundy can turn to when it seems like Caldwell-Pope's shot isn't falling. That means it's incumbent on KCP to start hitting shots are a more reliable clip. After scoring 20 points against Washington, he's combined for just 10 points total in losses to the Thunder and Grizzlies.
It's even more important because of how well Fournier has been playing for the Magic. Fournier is averaging 17.6 points per game and has hit at least half of his 3-pointers in each of the last six contests. The Magic reportedly turned down a future first-round pick from the Nuggets in the Arron Afflalo trade, preferring instead to take a gamble on the development of Fournier. The gamble appears to be paying off already.
Orlando: Channing Frye
Frye is going to be guarded by a combination of Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, and he's flanked on either side by dynamic scoring threats Vucevic and Tobias Harris. It's important that Pistons defenders don't let Frye shake free and give him easy perimeter looks because he will sink them, just as he's done in every other stop on his NBA career.
So far this season, Frye is hitting 43 percent from deep but not giving the Magic much else. He's a scoring specialist pure and simple and the Pistons can't allow him to do the one thing he does best. But as we've seen in the early going this year, Smith and Monroe have not guarded perimeter-oriented forwards with much success.
Part of this is by design, Van Gundy employs a conservative defensive approach that leaves his big men consistently near the paint instead of flying out to the perimeter. This has helped Monroe turn in one perhaps his best defensive output of his career. But Smith is more prone to switching off or sagging into the paint to disrupt the ball handler, and it's left his man open throughout the season.
And Harris, Fournier and Vucevic are all hitting at greater than 70 percent from within three feet, which means Smith is going to be tempted or forced or both into leaving Frye and addressing other Magic players. This could get ugly.
Last Time We Met
Technically, the last time these teams faced off was in the preseason, and the Magic walked away with a relatively easy 99-87 victory. But now the games count and Van Gundy will be looking to go 1-0 against his former team.
I'm not going to predict a final, but I will predict that this game is the first blowout of Detroit's young season. Will it be a blowout for them or against them? Tune in to find out.
Pistons: Jennings, KCP, Smith, Monroe, Drummond
Magic: Oladipo, Fournier, Harris, Frye, Vucevic
Pistons: Martin (foot), Meeks (back)
Magic: Gordon (foot), Devyn Marble (shoulder), O'Quinn (ankle), Ridnour (personal)
Anyone think the New Orleans Pelicans would trade Eric Gordon for Josh Smith?