After all, the Magic had lost 10 of their last 11 visits to the Palace of Auburn Hills, and they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Pistons in 2007 and 2008.
“This place has been a house of horrors since I’ve been here,” Van Gundy said. “I’m glad we are done here for the season, and I hope they don’t make the playoffs and get into a position where we’ve got to come back.”
“We were rolling early, but we lost Jameer and M.P. and we had Vince (Carter) and Rashard (Lewis) in foul trouble, and suddenly it was a game again,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think it matters, though. I think you could put five 10-year-olds out there in Pistons uniforms and we’d struggle in this building.”
The win means Van Gundy will coach the Eastern Conference in the Feb. 14 All-Star game in Texas.
The Magic clinched the second-best record in the East through January, behind Cleveland. Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is ineligible for the honor this season because he coached the team last year.
“We’re kind of going by default. I think Mike obviously deserves it, but it will be a fun weekend,” Van Gundy said. “It will be great for the league to be in Dallas.”
“We knew they were going to come back, but instead of giving up, we got the win,” Howard said. “Even when they took the lead, we thought we were going to win the game.”
“When you are going through a stretch like this—and we talk about it being a work in progress—our guys did compete tonight,” Pistons coach John Kuester said. “I thought they did a nice job.”
Because of the injuries and foul trouble, Van Gundy had to use veteran point guard Anthony Johnson(notes) for 20 minutes. Johnson, who hadn’t played in Orlando’s previous four games, finished with six points, three assists and the game’s biggest defensive play. He picked off Ben Gordon’s(notes) pass to prevent a tying 3-point attempt in the final seconds, then hit two free throws to clinch the game.
“It’s been a while since I was out there, but I was ready,” Johnson said. “Detroit plays slow and deliberate, so I was able to keep my wind and make some plays.”
The Magic dominated early, but Detroit was within 48-45 at halftime. The Pistons, who gave up 17 offensive rebounds in Friday’s lopsided loss to Miami, allowed only one to Orlando in the half.
Detroit started the second half with a 14-4 run to take a 59-52 lead and got some help from Howard, who missed seven free throws in the first three quarters.
The Pistons were ahead 65-64 at the end of the period, but Orlando rallied behind Redick’s jumpers. Three more missed free throws from Howard slowed the surge, leaving the game tied at 79 with 3:54 to go.
Pietrus’ 3-pointer broke the tie with 3:30 left, but he turned his ankle on the play and did not return.
Lewis made a pair of free throws to make it 89-86 with 9.5 seconds left, and Johnson jumped in front of Gordon’s pass.
“I just made a bad decision,” Gordon said. “I was in the corner and tried to get it to Tayshaun, but Anthony Johnson made a great play. I have to make better decisions with the ball.”
NOTES: Howard entered the game shooting 60.1 percent from the line. … Ben Wallace(notes) blocked three shots, giving him 1,999 for his career. With his next block, he will become the first NBA player shorter than 6-foot-10 to block 2,000 shots. … Detroit’s Charlie Villanueva(notes) was scratched just before the opening tip because of back spasms. … Van Gundy said he didn’t expect to know anything about the status of Nelson and Pietrus until Monday.