"We were just kind of relaxed. I think that was a good thing for us to be in here relaxed and kind of joking around," Bass said. "We were all just kind of making it a little joke -- that, 'Man, we're only going to have seven, eight players.'"
It was actually nine players, but Ryan Anderson went down with a sprained right foot after playing less than a minute. Even so, the Magic hardly looked depleted, shooting 60 percent from the field.
In addition to Bass' big game, Vince Carter (25) and Marcin Gortat (14) added season highs in scoring, and Orlando won its sixth straight.
"We're a very deep basketball team that believes in each other," Carter said. "They were shooting at a high level and we wanted to stay close and give ourselves a chance to win."
Gortat and Chris Duhon started in place of Howard and Nelson, but it was the 6-foot-8 Bass who made the biggest contribution. He made his first 11 shots from the field before finally missing from the baseline late in the fourth quarter.
"I always watch Jordan and Kobe and they talk about being in the zone," Bass said with a smile. "I don't know if I was in the zone, but it's definitely a feeling."
Tayshaun Prince scored 30 points for Detroit, which has lost four straight. Even with Howard out, the Pistons managed only three offensive rebounds.
"I guess they just wanted it more than us," Detroit's Charlie Villanueva said. "They were short-handed, they came ready to play. It seemed like it was hard for us to get into a flow out there. Everything seems hard for us."
Orlando trailed 55-54 at halftime and was having trouble stopping Detroit without Howard's intimidating presence inside, but the Magic made up for their defensive struggles with impressive shooting. Quentin Richardson made two 3-pointers and Rashard Lewis added another as part of a 14-1 run in the third quarter that put Orlando ahead 70-60.
Prince responded with six straight points of his own, and the Pistons cut the deficit to one late in the period, but Bass drove along the baseline for a dunk to stop the Detroit run. A 3-pointer by Richardson early in the fourth made it 81-73, and a fast-break layup by Carter put the Magic ahead 97-84.
The Magic ended up holding an opponent under 100 points for the 15th time in 19 games this season.
"My point to them during the game and at halftime was a lot of teams only play eight guys in their rotation," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "The depth of our roster and the fact that everybody on our roster can play shows itself tonight."
Carter scored 11 of his team's first 13 points and finished the first half with 18, and Bass scored 20 in the half, hurting Detroit both inside and from the perimeter. Bass made all eight of his field goal attempts and all four of his free throws in the first two quarters.
Howard and Pietrus are also expected to miss Saturday night's game at Milwaukee.
Detroit lost at Orlando 90-79 Tuesday night. ... The Magic shot 61 percent in the first half, and the Pistons shot 57 percent. ... The Magic (15-4) kept pace with Boston for the Eastern Conference's best record. ... Bass' previous career high was 21 points against Golden State on March 30, 2008.