AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — It seemed like the Detroit Pistons couldn’t give away tickets to Tuesday night’s exhibition game against the Orlando Magic. With the Detroit Tigers playing nearby in the American League Championship Series and a key presidential debate airing in primetime, only a few thousand people showed up at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
But what felt like an afterthought to fans meant everything to a few Magic players, even as Detroit trounced Orlando 112-86.
Spots on Orlando’s regular-season roster potentially were at stake. Jacque Vaughn rested most of his veteran players, and the decision created playing time for combo forward Justin Harper, swingman DeQuan Jones, power forward Josh McRoberts and point guards Armon Johnson and E’Twaun Moore.
“I am completely honest when I say I have not filled out my top 10, top nine, top 12 guys on the team yet,” Vaughn said afterward. “And guys should take advantage of that, and tonight was a night that guys should’ve taken advantage of that opportunity.”
Jones finished with a game-high 22 points — two of them on an acrobatic right-handed, first-quarter dunk that catapulted Magic veterans off their seats on the bench.
McRoberts scored six points, dished out four assists and collected two rebounds. He added a thunderous dunk of his own and a behind-the-back pass along the baseline that hit cutting Gustavo Ayón in stride for a layup.
“That’s what I’ve done the past two or three years: be able to get some dunks and make some passes,” said McRoberts, who had been limited earlier this preseason by a sprained toe.
“I’m not going to be a guy who’s going to get 20 points a game. But I like to make the game easier for my teammates and kind of try to do what I can to help us win. I could’ve rebounded the ball a lot better tonight.”
Ayón, a lock to make the final roster, finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds but also six turnovers.
The Magic struggled on defense, allowing the Pistons to make 54 percent of their shots.
“If there’s one thing I can pick out for the night it’s just we need to play harder on a consistent basis,” Vaughn said. “It doesn’t matter who’s playing in the game of basketball. You can win games, you can stay in games, you can compete if you play hard.”
An eerie quiet fell over The Palace whenever the loudspeakers didn’t blare music or the public-announcer’s voice. That enabled referee Brian Forte to hear Davis complain about a non-call from the Magic bench, prompting Forte to call a technical foul on Davis.
Orlando (0-4) has reached the halfway point of its preseason schedule — and so far this month, Vaughn has limited most of his projected starters’ minutes.
As Vaughn and his coaches entered their locker room after the final buzzer, assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. told Vaughn, “Coach, you have a lot of patience.”
Vaughn said he expects to approach the final three exhibitions differently: with coaches scouting opponents and with starters potentially receiving more minutes.
That made the exhibition against the Pistons even more important for players on the bubble.
“I’m just out there playing the sport that I love,” Jones said. “I’m big on just controlling the things that you can control and letting everything else take care of itself. If I play the best way that I’m capable of playing, then everything else will take care of itself.”
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