Pistons, Magic meet looking up at a playoff spot
The Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are scrambling to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race. One of them will collect a valuable win when they face each other at Detroit's Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday.
The Magic (19-24) and Pistons (18-24) own the ninth and 10th best records in the conference.
The Pistons have won just five of their past 22 games. They are coming off a 1-3 West Coast trip, with the lone victory coming against star forward Blake Griffin's former team, the Los Angeles Clippers.
The road swing wrapped up with a 100-96 loss at Utah on Monday night. Detroit was outscored 47-35 in the second half.
"We just have to be better; I have to be better," said Griffin, who was held to 19 points after a 44-point performance against the Clippers.
"A couple turnovers, a couple bad possessions, you can't afford those things against a team like this. We just have to be a little sharper, but I like the way we came in and competed and fought."
Ish Smith's return gives the Pistons hope for better days. The team's sixth man and backup point guard played his first game in more than a month and contributed eight points and two assists in 19 minutes. Smith was sidelined by an adductor tear.
Smith essentially issued a guarantee after the game that the Pistons will make the playoffs.
"We just have to play with pace. In the first half, we scored 59. When we play with great pace, we're really, really good," he said.
"I thought in the second half, we just missed some shots that we usually make. You can blame it on the end of the road trip. Whatever the case is, we are going to be good this year. I'm telling you, you can mark it down right now, whatever dates you want to mark down.
"We will continue to fight, continue to push, continue to impress and we are going to be exactly what we want to be at the end of the year."
The Magic leave Orlando on a high note, having defeated two of the league's best teams over the weekend. They edged Boston 105-103 to snap a four-game losing streak, then downed Houston 116-109.
Orlando outscored the Rockets 64-50 in the second half.
"Winning cures everything," said forward Aaron Gordon, who notched 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
"All of the bickering that was going on and all the doubt -- a couple of wins can change that. ... Not so much bickering, but we just lost our purpose of play. Now, we can't get complacent and we have to keep adding."
The Magic shot 48.2 percent and had 25 assists compared to 11 turnovers. A victory at Detroit would match their longest winning streak of the season.
"That's been our issue all season -- not being able to stay consistent," center Nikola Vucevic said on NBA.com.
"We did it two games, but now we have to do it night-in and night-out. Hopefully, we're to a point now where we can do that. The next game is huge for us, against Detroit, which is a team that we're going to fight for a playoff spot. Hopefully, we can have another good night."
Orlando backup center Mo Bamba has missed the past three games with a sore left foot. Although Bamba practiced Tuesday, coach Steve Clifford said afterward that it is more "realistic" that the rookie will return Friday against Brooklyn rather than Wednesday.
Detroit and Orlando split their first two meetings this season.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 15, 2019