The Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons grabbed the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference last season.
Currently, they’re in danger of sinking to the bottom of the standings. Orlando will be looking to end a six-game road losing streak at Detroit on Monday. The Magic have fallen three games below the .500 mark.
The Pistons aren’t faring much better, having lost six of their last seven. They’ve won just five of their first 16 games.
Injuries to key players have hampered both clubs. Orlando’s top frontcourt players, center Nikola Vucevic and power forward Aaron Gordon, are both sidelined due to right ankle sprains. Reserve guard Michael Carter-Williams (hip) is also unavailable.
Detroit’s top player, power forward Blake Griffin, missed the first 10 games due to hamstring and knee issues. He sat out the team’s 104-90 loss at Milwaukee on Saturday because the medical staff doesn’t want him to play on back-to-back nights. Starting small forward Tony Snell (hip) has missed the last two games and point guard Reggie Jackson (back) is out indefinitely.
Orlando began a four-game road trip with a 16-point loss to Toronto. The Magic were more competitive against Indiana on Saturday before succumbing 111-106. The Pacers’ Aaron Holiday made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left. Indiana secured the victory by making two free throws after a Magic turnover.
“That’s a tough loss and disappointing for sure,” swingman Evan Fournier told NBA.com. “We just didn’t make the plays toward the end. We missed a few shots and gave up that rebound — those cost us the game.”
Forward Jonathan Isaac’s career-high 25 points went to waste. But he was encouraged that the Magic battled the Pacers to the end without Vucevic and Gordon, who are averaging a combined 30.2 points, 17.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists.
“I think the way we responded in the face of the adversity that’s in front of us is the first thing that we can build upon,” Isaac said to the team’s website. “Guys started to believe in that game, and we’ll have a belief going forward that we can hang.”
Griffin will be in uniform again for Monday’s game.
“Once we get all of our pieces together; we’re going to be a tough team to beat,” Detroit guard Langston Galloway said.
The depleted Pistons were down just eight points entering the fourth against the Bucks but failed to score in the first six minutes of the quarter.
“I thought our guys came out and competed,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It was an eight-point game. But it was a great example where you have to execute against one of the top defensive teams in the league when the pressure’s on, when things are kind of shaky a little bit. … For the most part, our intensity, our fire, our grit was there.”
While Casey sees signs of progress, he realizes the bottom line has to change quickly for the team to get into the playoff chase again. The Pistons play five of their next seven games at home, beginning on Monday.
“We’ll regroup and get everybody back in check and get everybody healthy,” he said. “The next couple weeks are big for us.”
This will be the first of three meetings between the clubs. They won’t see each other again until mid-February.
–Field Level Media