There are plenty of excuses you can give for the Magic's fourth straight loss.
Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson, the Magic's three leading scorers and most consistent players, sat out with various injuries. It put the Magic in a deep hole as far as production goes entering the game. Even against a Pistons team that struggles to score, it was a concern getting stops and getting points.
This was going to be very similar to the game against the Nuggets on Sunday, which the Magic played without Dwight Howard.
Once again, the effort was there. It was more than there. It came from every crest and cavity of the Magic roster. None moreso than an exhausted Glen Davis who poured everything he could into the last two games.
Effort is still not enough. Not when rotations are being missed, not when guards are getting blown by, not when this is not a defensive team and lacks anyone who can challenge at the rim outside of Howard.
Detroit put on a rare offensive onslaught, but struggled with turnovers. It allowed Orlando to keep fighting and scratching and clawing its way back into the game. But tied entering the fourth quarter, the Pistons put together a strong offensive stretch and brought the lead out to double digits, outpacing the undermanned Magic that lacked a player with consistent one on one abilities.
Again, effort was not enough. Orlando needed the defensive habits that previous teams had and relied on in the rare instances Dwight Howard missed games. Stan Van Gundy does not believe in moral victories and a 102-95 loss in Detroit does not qualify as one. Not when the team continues to give up points by the bucketful.
Glen Davis scored a career-high 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting, posting a 58.7 percent true shooting percentage, and grabbed 10 rebounds. Hedo turkoglu scored 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first first half and even Chris Duhon was energetic and lively with 10 of his 13 points coming in the third quarter after the Magic got off to a slow start.
But none of them could prevent Detroit from getting to the basket or getting open shots. Add some bad bounces, and Orlando did not have enough to get over the hump.
The Pistons shot 56.6 percent and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. They often pulled the Magic out of position and grabbed open shots. This of course happened when the Pistons were not able to break the Magic down off the dribble and get to the basket.
Detroit committed 14 turnovers, allowing Orlando to push the pace a bit -- especially with Ish Smith in the game in the second quarter -- and get the offense going. That was about the Pistons' only shortcoming tonight. Detroit got 22 points from Greg Monroe and 18 points from Ben Gordon, getting good balance with all five starters scoring in double figures.
This is a Pistons team that is near the bottom of the league in offensive rating, scoring 0.97 points per possession. That is 29th in the league. This is not a good offensive team.
Yet, Detroit found ways to score and score and score.
The Pistons put together strong offensive runs to extend their lead out to double digits and force the Magic to fight back. On most nights, Orlando would probably have the offensive firepower and the defensive wherewithal to complete the comeback. Tonight just was not that night.
Offensively, things went well. There were a few droughts that allowed the Pistons to build that lead out. But overall the Magic played well together and knew what they needed to do to keep pace.
Davis had a big game, working hard on the glass and establishing himself in the post. He knew what he needed to do. Turkoglu was aggressive and hot early, but cooled off with just two points in the second half and two field goal attempts. J.J. Redick really struggled though at 1 for 9 from the floor.
The Magic needed some key shots to fall and could not get them. Without a defense to rely on to get the necessary stops, those misses proved bigger than they needed to be.
That is what Stan Van Gundy's pointcontinues to be as the Magic struggle more and more on that side of the floor. The habits the team needs to rely on the defense when the offense is struggling just is not there. Part of it is personnel, but it is not that entirely. The effort, as Van Gundy said, was there tonight. The execution wasn't.
Howard, Nelson and Anderson might not have been available, but the defense remained absent. It cost Orlando the inside track to the three seed in the East -- with Indiana's win, Orlando fell a half game behind -- and has the team staring its defensive reality right in the face.