Magic looking to overtake Pistons in playoff race
The Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons have been heading in opposite directions the last two weeks. If that trend continues on Thursday, the Magic will pass the Pistons in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Magic (37-38) have won six straight to take the lead in the Southeast Division as well as move into the conference's eighth and final playoff position. The Pistons have lost four of their last five, all on the road, dropping to the .500 mark at 37-37.
The two teams face each other in Detroit on Thursday night.
Orlando followed up a 5-0 homestand with a big win at Miami on Tuesday, allowing the Magic to pass the Heat in the division. Center Nikola Vucevic led them to the 104-99 victory with 24 points and 16 rebounds.
The Magic are in position for their first playoff appearance since the 2011-12 season.
"We've fought for this all year and now we control our own destiny," Vucevic told the team's website. "Now, it's on us to do what is necessary to stay there and keep us in that top eight and maybe even go for more. The teams in front of us aren't that far away, so maybe we can even do more (by moving up in the standings)."
The Magic's winning streak is their longest since the 2010-11 season, when they won nine straight in December and January.
Orlando was down by nine at halftime in Miami but turned the game around by outscoring the Heat 34-19 in the third quarter.
"We just stuck with it because we knew it was going to be a long game," Vucevic said. "We knew they were going to come out very aggressive. For us, it was a second night of a back-to-back and sometimes you start off a little sluggish and it takes a little time. That's also risky in these games because (the opponent) can build a big lead, which they did, but we cut it in half. Then, we were able to regroup in the second half and win the game."
The Pistons also had a big second half on Tuesday but it wasn't enough to overcome a very slow start. They trailed by 27 at halftime in Denver, then staged a furious rally. Blake Griffin missed a 3-point attempt in the closing seconds that could have sent the game to overtime.
The 95-92 loss had the Pistons lamenting their first-half woes.
"You can't be happy about that," coach Dwane Casey said of the comeback. "The way we played the first half, again, we talk about being a playoff team and it makes me even more mad and upset. Again, we have to have about seven or eight soldiers going in to win this game, whenever our next game is, and be ready to play. I thought we executed well down in the second half, but
we were way too late."
Detroit has been tough to beat at Little Caesars Arena, winning its last nine games at home.
"I want to say in those nine games, one thing is our fans have been great," said Griffin, who scored 29 points against the Nuggets. "They've been a difference-maker in a lot of those games for us. Overall, it's been our attitude, the way we play basketball. Like I keep talking about all season, we put a product on the (court) that we can be proud of, that Detroit can be proud of -- that's what we've got to do."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 28, 2019