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Missing their three best players on Tuesday night in the Motor City- center Dwight Howard, point guard Jameer Nelson and forward Ryan Anderson- the Orlando Magic was unable to snap its three-game losing streak, as the Detroit Pistons took care of business at home, 102-95.
Howard missed his second consecutive game with back spasms, while Nelson and Anderson were inactive due to a sore left calf and sprained right ankle suffered in Sunday night’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, respectively. Jason Richardson, Orlando’s starting shooting guard, who scored 10 points in this game, refused to use Howard’s absence as an excuse for allowing Detroit to shoot 57% from the field on the night.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” said Richardson. “We know we’re missing Dwight, who is our leader down there on that end of the floor. But there’s going to be times where he might be in foul trouble the rest of the season or the playoffs, and we’ve got to learn to play without him.”
Head coach Stan Van Gundy was a little more honest and critical of his team’s defensive effort.
“We don’t play any defense,” Van Gundy said afterward.
The Magic entered the game as the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a 32-21 record, but were knocked down to the fifth slot after a Pacers win over the Knicks combined with their own loss caused the two to trade spots in the standings. Meanwhile, idle Boston maintained its grasp on the number four seed.
With the score even at 74, following a missed lay-up on a difficult attempt by Magic guard J.J. Redick, this was anyone’s game entering the fourth quarter. But before the Magic could blink, Pistons guard Brandon Knight had just knocked down a long jumper near the right wing with 9:41 remaining in the fourth to complete a 7-0 Detroit run.
Detroit would start 8/10 in the final quarter, and a 17-4 run extended their lead to 91-78 with 5:58 left to go in the ball game. Orlando simply could not get stops when they needed them in the game’s most crucial moments. “We won’t contend for nothing if we don’t play defense,” said reserve forward Glen Davis.
Davis really picked up the scoring slack with the big guns missing from the lineup, as he recorded 31 points and 10 rebounds.
A 9-2 Magic run made it a two possession game, 93-87 Pistons with 2:44 on the clock, but it was too little, too late at that point. The Magic scored eight points over that final stretch, but gave up nine points of their own.
Six Detroit players contributed double figures in scoring. They may only have a 20-33 record, but they’ve now won four out of their last five. Pistons coach Lawrence Frank certainly didn’t have any sympathy for the depleted Magic roster.
“Obviously, Dwight is one of the elite paint protectors,” said Frank. “But you play with the guys you have.” The Pistons play their next game against the Wizards at home on Thursday night, while the Magic will host the New York Knicks that same night on a nationally televised stage.
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