January has been good to the Detroit Pistons. They have six wins this month — more than the five games they won during the first three months of the 2021-22 season combined. That run includes victories over the Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors. The blowouts have been few and far between. Their three-game skid going into Friday came against three playoff contenders, with each a close game.
Friday’s loss to the Orlando Magic felt more like the Pistons of old. The Magic and Pistons own the NBA’s two worst records, but Orlando was the better team from start to finish. They defeated the Pistons, 119-103, and got their first win against Detroit after losing the first two contests between the cellar dwellers.
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The Pistons couldn’t hit shots, knocking down just 32 of 87 attempts (36.8%) and struggled to defend. Orlando shot 50% overall and 48% from 3. Trey Lyles led Detroit with 18 points, and Saddiq Bey finished with 17 points and five rebounds. Michigan alumnus Franz Wagner led all scorers with 24 points, and Terrence Ross added 21 points.
Cade Cunningham, who scored a career-high 34 points and added eight rebounds, eight assists and four blocks against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, wasn’t able to hit shots he usually makes and finished with eight points on 3-of-17 shooting. He missed his first 11 shots.
Detroit trailed by 20 points at the end of the first quarter, and by double-digits for most of the night. Bey knocked down a 3-pointer with 7:25 remaining in the third quarter to cut the deficit to eight, but Orlando responded with a 27-11 run to put the game out of reach.
Bench outplays starters
The Pistons haven’t been a great offensive team this season, but they’ve had one of the league’s highest-scoring bench units. Entering Friday, Detroit’s bench was fifth in the league in points per game (38.1). The bench looked significantly better than the starters during the first half, and nearly led a comeback in the second quarter before the starters checked back in.
The bench outscored Detroit’s starters by a 34-17 margin during the first half, and was responsible for a 15-3 second-quarter run that helped to cut the deficit from 20 to seven, 52-45, midway through the period. Hayes, who came off the bench for the third straight game, had one of his better games this season with 11 points, six rebounds and six assists. He scored or assisted on Detroit’s first five points in the second quarter and made a layup to cut the deficit to seven with 5:45 to play until halftime. Hayes was one of four reserves to score in double digits, joining Lyles, Frank Jackson (12 points) and Rodney McGruder (11 points).
The starters checked in during the back half of the second quarter and gave up a 13-4 run that allowed the Magic to build the lead back to 16 entering halftime. Detroit’s bench finished with 56 points.
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