Detroit — It was a familiar finish for the Pistons, with what has become a familiar result.
Play hard, stay within a reasonable distance and fight for a win down the stretch.
That script almost had a rewrite in the final minutes, but the Orlando Magic made some big shots in clutch time and secured a 119-112 victory on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena.
It’s the third straight loss and sixth in the last seven games for the Pistons (19-46), who were without seven of their key players because of injuries and rest. The Magic also were shorthanded, with eight players out.
The Pistons have the second-worst record in the league, and with seven games left, the Magic (21-45) are two games better. The teams with the three worst records after the regular season will have the best odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft lottery.
Saddiq Bey had 26 points and nine rebounds, Frank Jackson 19 points and Hamidou Diallo 16 points and seven rebounds. Tyler Cook added a career-best 13 points and Isaiah Stewart 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We had the lead (in the first half) but some missed shots led to our defensive relaxation,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I guess young guys think you don’t have to come out and compete every night. I don’t care who it is — you have to come out and compete like your life depends on it, and we didn’t do that.
“We’re not talented enough across the board to not come out and play hard and compete at a high level.”
The Pistons looked to be fading in the fourth quarter, with a 105-91 deficit at the 6:21 mark, but Stewart hit a pair of free throws and Diallo converted a three-point play. After a hook by Mo Bamba (22 points and 15 rebounds), the Pistons got eight straight points from Bey, with a pair of 3-pointers and a steal and dunk that closed the margin to 107-104 with 3:25 left.
The Magic regained control, after Chasson Randle was fouled on a 3-pointer and made two. Diallo hit a fadeaway but Ignas Brazdeikis answered with a 3-pointer to make it a six-point lead. The Pistons countered with a putback by Stewart, but Bamba, who was 9 of 15 from the field, scored on a jumper to get it back to six.
“We just have to focus on us and execute our game plan, which is to play a full 48 minutes and play on both ends,” Diallo said.
The Pistons had a 16-9 lead early in the first quarter, with a tip-in by Stewart and a 3-pointer by Bey at the 5:27 mark. Rookie R.J. Hampton (16 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists) had a jumper and a pair of free throws, which started an 8-2 spurt. Cook had back-to-back baskets for the Pistons, who took a 26-21 lead entering the second quarter.
The Magic pulled ahead with a 6-0 run, but Cook answered with a dunk off a feed from Saben Lee (nine points and seven assists) and Lee added a 3-pointer. The Pistons looked to be in control with a 45-36 lead, following a lay-in by Sekou Doumbouya. The Magic finished the half with a 15-3 run and led, 51-48.
Bamba got going early in the fourth quarter, with three straight Orlando baskets, and he had 13 of his points in the final period. At 7-foot-2, Bamba was a presence in the paint that the Pistons didn’t have an answer for.
“(Six-foot-8) versus 7-foot-2 — I would say that’s an advantage, and it was. He had one of his better games. He didn’t shoot from 3 like we thought he would. His length and size on the boards (was a difference),” Casey said. “He had a monster game; he played well.”
Bamba got going and the Magic kept feeding him the ball.
Bey kept scrapping down to the final basket, a putback with one second left, but the Pistons didn’t have enough to get the win.
Hornets at Pistons
►Tipoff: 7, Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena
►Outlook: The Pistons are on a back-to-back and the Hornets, who won Saturday’s meeting are contending for a playoff spot.