The Detroit Pistons had no answers for Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier on Sunday.
They need to come up with a better response to the Orlando Magic duo if they want to end their three-game losing streak.
Vucevic piled up 37 points, 12 rebounds and three assists, while Fournier notched 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in the Magic’s 105-96 victory. The two teams will meet again in Orlando on Tuesday.
Detroit centers Mason Plumlee and Isaiah Stewart couldn’t contain Vucevic, and its wing players were no match for Fournier.
Orlando took the lead in the early going and never gave it back, as Vucevic and Fournier responded every time the Pistons tried to make a run. Vucevic went on a personal 6-0 run in the late going after Detroit pulled within seven points.
He was coming off a triple-double performance against Golden State.
“I’ve been feeling good. Obviously, I’ve been playing at a high level since the beginning of the year and just continuing to stay aggressive and play off my teammates,” Vucevic said. “Once you get into a good rhythm, you just feel a certain way.”
Fournier is feeling good again after missing some time earlier this month with back spasms. In the three games since his return, he’s averaging 25.3 points. It’s a big reason why Orlando carries a three-game winning streak into Tuesday’s contest.
“We’re playing with energy. We’re playing with purpose,” Fournier said. “I like what I’m seeing. We started the game well and we finished it well. There’s a lot of positives. We had one or two stretches where we weren’t as good on defense, not executing. But we kept fighting and ended up getting the ‘W.'”
With four of the Magic’s five remaining games prior to the All-Star break at home, coach Steve Clifford is hopeful that his team’s improved play will continue. Orlando held Detroit to 37.4 percent shooting from the field.
“I believe that we’re playing better on defense. (Sunday) was very good again,” Clifford said. “And I think we’re starting to get a better understanding of how we have to play in order to be more consistent.”
Detroit’s offensive struggles were due in part to the absence of starting point guard Delon Wright, who is out at least two weeks with a groin strain.
Recently acquired Dennis Smith Jr. had a rough time in his first start with Detroit, committing four turnovers in 15 minutes. The bright spot was rookie backup Saben Lee, who had the most impactful game of his young career.
Lee had 12 points, five assists and three steals and just one turnover in 33 minutes.
“I thought he did everything we asked him to do,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “Distribute the basketball. Defended his butt off. Kept the pace where we needed it to be. Found people on kickouts. We didn’t do a good job of knocking down shots, but we had some great looks.”
Lee is one of five rookies on the Pistons’ roster. He was a second-round selection but injuries to Wright and lottery pick Killian Hayes have suddenly thrust him into the rotation.
“He’s competitive, he’s tough, he just sets the tone,” Casey said. “The whole complexion of the game changed when he came in.”