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Orlando Magic vs Detroit Pistons

Orlando (3-0) at Detroit (1-2)
The Detroit Pistons extended their dominance of the Orlando Magic in 2008-09, but it would be difficult to argue they were the better team.

After the first three games of the new season, the Magic once again appear to be one of the conference’s elite, while the Pistons are struggling.

Orlando looks to extend its undefeated start Tuesday - possibly with Vince Carter(notes) back in the lineup - when it visits Detroit, which knows it will be without Richard Hamilton(notes).

The Pistons (1-2) have won 19 of the last 24 meetings against the Magic (3-0), including all three last season. However, after ending Orlando’s playoff runs in 2003, 2007 and 2008, Detroit was left watching the Eastern Conference finals from home while Orlando was defeating Cleveland en route to facing the Lakers in the NBA finals.

The Magic averaged 87.0 points in their three losses to the Pistons last season - 14 below their season average - but they’ve had little trouble scoring in the first three games of 2009-10, reaching 120 in two of those contests including a 125-116 victory over Toronto on Sunday.

Despite missing Carter (sprained left ankle), Mickael Pietrus(notes) (flulike symptoms) and Rashard Lewis(notes) (suspension), the Magic had plenty of contributors and were on fire from beyond the arc, connecting on a season-high 17 3-pointers.

J.J. Redick(notes) went 5 of 8 from 3-point range to finish with a career-high 27 points. Jameer Nelson(notes) scored a team-high 30 while Dwight Howard(notes), named Eastern Conference player of the week on Monday, added 24 points and 11 rebounds.

“(The coaching staff) said, ‘You’ve got to play your own game, you can’t play Vince’s game or anything else, but you’ve got to play your game at a very high level,’” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Those guys did. Jameer, J.J., Dwight, Ryan (Anderson) and Matt (Barnes) were all outstanding.”

Van Gundy said Carter could return Tuesday. He averaged 15.5 points in the first two games and will look to help the Magic get off to the best start in their history. Against a Detroit team missing its leading scorer from last season, they appear to have a good chance.

Hamilton, who will miss his third straight contest with a sprained left ankle, averaged 30.0 points in two games against Orlando last season.

Without Hamilton, whose 18.3 scoring average in 2008-09 led Detroit for the seventh year in a row, the Pistons have failed to break 90 points in consecutive losses. They led both games at the half but struggled in the third quarters, scoring 16 points in a 91-83 loss to Oklahoma City on Friday then managing only 14 in the third quarter of a 96-85 loss to Milwaukee on Saturday.

“We’ve got to play 48 minutes,” first-year coach John Kuester said. “It’s 24 minutes of the first half that the rhythm is good but that third period, we’ve got to come out with a certain amount of energy that we had when we left the court.”

The Pistons also struggled in the third quarter of their only win, scoring 18 points after taking a 53-41 lead into the locker room against Memphis last Wednesday.

Despite their overall problems, the Pistons have to be pleased with the production of their biggest offseason signing. Ben Gordon(notes) scored a season-high 26 points Saturday, going 8 of 15 from the floor. The former Chicago guard is averaging 24.3 points through three games.

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