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Pistons vs. Magic preview: Tanks tangle as Detroit searches for a little magic

The NBA’s two worst teams face off

NBA: Orlando Magic at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a disheartening back-to-back that saw the Detroit Pistons lose all momentum they gained from their impressive victory against the Bucks, the Pistons look to right the ship against a fellow Eastern Conference bottom-dweller in the Orlando Magic.

Detroit took some heat from the national media this week, as Charles Barkley and TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew questioned the young Pistons’ effort after non-competitive losses to the Charlotte Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies.

While Detroit admittedly came out flat in both losses (and especially in the Grizzlies game), many Pistons fans have stepped in to point out the team’s record has been a reflection of talent rather than effort levels for the majority of the season. Still, maybe Barkley’s words will light a fire under the team to come out with some energy in tonight’s game.

Today’s matchup should have heavy lottery implications, as the Pistons and the Magic currently hold the two worst records in the NBA.

Game Vitals

When: 7 p.m. ET
Where: Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons -2

Game Analysis

When Orlando and Detroit last met, the Pistons tallied their first win of the season as Cade Cunningham endeared himself to the Pistons’ fan base in his career debut.

While the Pistons have enjoyed the return of their stud rookie Cunningham from COVID health and safety protocols, the Magic will now be without their top-five pick, Jalen Suggs, who has been out since Nov. 29 with a thumb injury.

The Magic, however, did receive a big boost this week with the return of last year’s first-round pick Cole Anthony. The North Carolina product returned from an ankle injury in Orlando’s last game and is posting gaudy per game averages of just over 20 points, six rebounds, and almost six assists. He’s listed as questionable for tonight’s game.

The Magic’s lineup will also feature Franz Wagner, who has completely surpassed expectations. He’s averaging close to 16 points per game and is making an impact all over the court after being drafted eighth overall out of Michigan. Wagner is starting to receive consistent love as a dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate behind Cunningham, Cleveland’s Evan Mobley and Toronto’s Scottie Barnes.

While the Pistons are no longer relying on 10-day contracts to fill the roster, the team is still shorthanded as Jerami Grant, Kelly Olynyk and Frank Jackson remain out with their respective injuries. Jackson recently entered COVID health and safety protocols as well. Cory Joseph is expected to be available tonight in his return from protocols.

Pistons fans will no doubt be watching to see how the second-year players respond after the nightmare game on Thursday. Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart combined for 14 points on a collective 6-of-25 shooting from the field in the loss against the Grizzlies. Needless to say, Detroit needs more from its young core to remain competitive in any game.

Hayes especially is in need of a turnaround game. Thursday’s game was among his worst of the season as he looked to have lost any confidence he had spent the season trying to build up. Ideally, he can come out with a better mentality and gain back some of that confidence against a lesser opponent in the Magic.

The lone bright spot of last game was Saben Lee, who provided a spark off the bench with 14 points and nailed both of his attempts from three. He’ll look to build off that performance, though it’s yet to be seen if the return of Joseph will affect his ability to get on the floor.

Fans of the tank won’t lose sleep over a potential Pistons loss tonight, as this game has the potential to be the difference between the first pick and the sixth pick when lottery season comes around.

However, coming off of consecutive losses that were so bad fans forgot they beat the defending NBA champions earlier this week, it’s important for the Pistons to compete and win in front of the home crowd tonight.

Projected Starting Lineups

Orlando Magic (7-32)

Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba

Detroit Pistons (7-30)

Killian Hayes, Cade Cunningham, Hamidou Diallo, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart

Question of the Day

Will the winner of this game eventually come to regret it in the tank race?