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Pistons-Magic Preview

AP - Sports

Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy seem to be on the same page - for now - but the Orlando Magic might have a new concern as they head down the stretch.

Howard's balky back will keep him out Monday night for the third time in five games, and the visiting Detroit Pistons will look to take advantage for the second time in less than a week.

Howard missed two games during Orlando's five-game skid with back spasms, and hardly appeared to be at full strength upon returning. He was held to eight points during the Magic's 96-80 loss in New York on Thursday night - hours after Van Gundy admitted he was told by management that Howard wanted him gone - and missed 10 of 14 shots Saturday at Philadelphia.

The three-time reigning defensive player of the year still finished with 20 points and 22 boards as Orlando beat the 76ers 88-82 to stop its slide, but the news wasn't all good. The Magic announced Monday morning that Howard wouldn't play against the Pistons and would also likely sit Tuesday at Washington to rest his back.

Orlando (33-23) has two days off after that game before hosting Atlanta on Friday.

Though there's nothing structurally wrong with Howard's back, the injury involves soft tissue, and Van Gundy told the team's official website Monday that Howard "paid a personal price" by playing Saturday.

At the time, though, the embattled coach was rather pleased with his team's perseverance against Philadelphia despite shooting just 36.3 percent.

"This is the best I've felt about this team the entire year,'' said Van Gundy, who Friday admitted he was prepared to "move on" from the latest saga with his star center.

Van Gundy certainly didn't feel good about his team last week against the Pistons (21-35). Detroit took full advantage of Howard's absence, shooting 56.6 percent and outscoring the Magic 56-30 in the paint in a 102-95 victory.

The Pistons have shot 50.7 percent in three consecutive wins over Orlando, and they've outrebounded the Magic by a combined 84-58 in two victories this season.

Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson also missed last week's meeting, but both could be on the floor Monday. Nelson, who missed the game with a sore left calf, is 5 for 26 in two games since returning - 1 for 14 from inside the 3-point line.

Anderson has missed the past three games with a sprained ankle, but said he felt good in Monday's shootaround and appears ready to return.

Detroit (21-35), though, has had Orlando's number lately with or without Anderson. The Pistons have won three straight in the series - two this season - as Ben Gordon has averaged 20.0 points on 51.2 percent shooting.

Gordon had 18 in last week's win against the Magic and 13 two days later in a 99-94 win over Washington, but has since been held to 15 points total in road losses to Atlanta and Miami.

Detroit had shot 52.1 percent in its previous four games before being held to 37.3 percent in Sunday's 98-75 loss at Miami.

Nineteen turnovers didn't help.

"They got all of the shots they wanted,'' said rookie Brandon Knight, who scored a team-high 16. "It was easy for them. We had turnovers, missed shots, and it all led to the lead piling up.''

The Pistons, who have shot at least 50 percent in both wins this season against the Magic, fell to 11-32 when they don't hit at least half their shots.

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