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Pistons at Magic Preview: Florida back-to-back vital to keeping playoff hopes alive

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Detroit needs both of these weekend games to remain in the playoff hunt

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Detroit Pistons will play maybe the most vital game for the season for them - a game with heavy tiebreaker implications, on a back-to-back, against a team (in the Miami Heat) equally desperate to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, they have to play against the Orlando Magic on Friday first.

Game Vitals:

When: Friday, March 2, 7 p.m. EST
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass
Odds: Detroit -2.5

Analysis:

Orlando is currently tanking and has been bad (Now 18-43 after starting the season 8-4) for the majority of the season, but the Pistons can’t afford to take them lightly - they’ve already lost to the Magic in Orlando once this season.

Orlando is in the process of re-integrating a lot of their talent: Nikola Vucevic has recovered from his hand injury and made his way back into the lineup, and first-round pick Jonathan Isaac is hopefully returning from his ankle injury tonight. Vucevic, as a big man who is willing to play away from the rim and bang underneath it, has always given Andre Drummond trouble - watch that matchup tonight.

The Magic still have Mario Hezonja, who dropped 28 on the Pistons earlier this season, making what was supposed to be an easy win scarily competitive. Hezonja has quietly become the most intriguing part of Orlando’s season:

  • Since his breakout game against the Pistons, he’s averaging 13 points, four rebounds, an assist and a steal while slashing 47/37/81.
  • He’s shown more ball-handling ability and shot creation, and has become a more consistent shooter in his increased playing time. He’s also showing defensive flashes - a moment of verticality here, a well-timed jump of a passing lane there - that remind you why he was a top-five draft pick.
  • Of course, because it’s the Magic, Orlando has already declined his fourth-year team option, making him an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season

Hezonja has tenuous Detroit connections - his agent was Arn Tellem - and would be an intriguing (and more importantly, cheap) infusion of young talent for a team desperate for both of those things. The Pistons should definitely offer him what they can during the offseason.

Coming back to the present, the Pistons SHOULD win tonight - but that’s never stopped them before. Personally, I am looking for a few things:

  • If Stan Van Gundy keeps James Ennis III in the starting lineup - and if that proves to make enough of a difference offensively for that lineup, which needs the threat of his spacing.
  • If Langston Galloway is hot or cold. Galloway appears to be back in the rotation, but Pistons fans know how flimsy his hold on that backup spot has been for Langston. If he’s hitting shots, everything will work out for the bench.
  • If Blake Griffin bounces back from an especially rough shooting night. Yes, Trout Jefferson, Blake almost had a triple double, but it would’ve been one of those Rajon Rondo/Jason Kidd triple doubles (something like 11-11-12). Griffin (and the whole team, really) did a great job against Giannis Antetokounmpo on defense - with a less tough cover in Aaron Gordon tonight, hopefully Blake can get more of his offense going.
  • If Dwight Buycks can get into the lane. Buycks’ penetration really opens up the bench’s offense, since he’s more of a threat to finish than Jameer Nelson. If Buycks can make the reads, finish, and get other guys involved in 17 minutes tonight, that’ll be great for Detroit.

Projected Lineups:

Detroit:
Ish Smith, Reggie Bullock, James Ennis III, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Orlando:
D.J. Augustin, Jonathon Simmons, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic

Prediction:

The Pistons win, but never make it look easy.

Detroit 108, Orlando 102