Auburn Hills — Josh Smith wore a wry smile as Maurice Cheeks motioned for him to come back from the scorer’s table midway through the fourth quarter, a smile that’s usually been replaced by more expressions of angst in recent times.
But as the Pistons pushed their lead to 20 against the worst road team in the NBA, the Orlando Magic, they gave The Palace crowd something it hadn’t seen in nearly two full months: a comfortable home win.
The Pistons ended their four-game losing streak Tuesday with a resounding 103-87 win in Auburn Hills, returning the favor from a blowout loss this time last month in central Florida, bringing them to 8-15 at The Palace.
Andre Drummond played more like the man who helped the Pistons to a 115-100 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 1, and not the 20-year-old who had the bad game Sunday in Dallas.
Drummond had 31 points and 19 rebounds the last time the Pistons won comfortably at home, and although he didn’t score as much, his 13 points and 17 rebounds, controlling the glass, helped the Pistons pull away from the struggling Magic.
“I told him in shoot-around that he’s human, he can have a bad game here and there,” Cheeks said. “He’s not a machine. It’s important to see how you bounce back. He had a nice bounce-back game.”
Cheeks was even happier when Drummond popped up off the floor in the second quarter after a spill when he landed awkwardly on his right ankle.
Drummond changed shoes and went back to work, helping the Pistons to a 56-40 rebounding edge, crucial considering the Magic shot just 41 percent from the field but had a lead after the first 12 minutes.
“Last game was a tough game for me. I didn’t play to my ability,” Drummond said. “Everybody’s entitled to an off-night and I had to come out and play with a lot more energy.”
The talk from Cheeks certainly buoyed a young player’s confidence. “Hearing that stuff from Mo, because he knows I get down on myself for doing anything wrong, gave me a boost to want to be great tonight,” Drummond said.
Cheeks pulled Drummond on Sunday after he ran a play incorrectly on the first possession of the second half, and he called a 20-second timeout on the first possession of the second half Tuesday, when players weren’t in the right spots.
“We didn’t execute our plays,” Cheeks said. “That’s something we were talking about, screening and executing, and come out in the third quarter and don’t do it. We have to get better at that.”
The second and third quarters made their fourth-quarter issues obsolete, as they outscored the Magic 58-38, and it would have been a wider spread had the Pistons not lived up to their “worst-hooting team” billing.
They didn’t hit a jumper until the second quarter, and it was actually Smith (12 of 16 points in first half) who hit three straight jumpers to push a four-point lead to 10 right before the half, but the Magic kept it within six before Kyle Singler hit a 3-pointer and cut inside for a layup to trigger a 17-5 run that essentially put the game out of reach.
Before that, jumpers clanged off the rim in earnest, especially from Brandon Jennings, who missed his first eight shots but kept firing and wound up hitting seven of his last 11 to score 20, continuing his current streak of consecutive 20-point outings alive. If it wasn’t for the Pistons’ massive size advantage, it could have hurt them, but Jennings got going late to push the lead to as much as 25.
“We need Brandon to score to win games,” Cheeks said. “It’s a happy medium. If other guys are going well, you don’t worry about his shooting. If they’re not, then he has to keep shooting.”
He finished with 20, eight assists and four rebounds in 34 minutes. Unlike recent games when opposing point guards got off, Magic point guard Jameer Nelson missed six of his nine shots for 11 points.
“We really emphasized defense tonight and it showed,” Drummond said. “We were communicating and were in the right spots defensively.”
For a slight moment, the Pistons could breathe, because no matter the competition, home wins — and smiles — have been scarce.
“It didn’t matter, we just had to get a win,” Cheeks said. “I kept telling our guys we were close but we just had to finish. Tonight we played a full game.”