Tonight at 7:30pm EST the Pistons are in Toronto to play against the Eastern Conference leading Raptors. The Pistons will be on the second night of a back to back after losing to the Hornets yesterday and this will be their 3rd game in 4 nights, while the Raptors are on two days of rest following a close loss to the Bucks on Friday.
The Raptors are really good, it is hard to blame you if you are skeptical of their ability to succeed in the playoffs given their track-record, but for the regular season at least this is probably the third best team in basketball and there are enough numbers to suggest that the team is different from the past few years that they may even overcome their playoff demons.
They come into this game with the 4th best offensive efficiency in the NBA by scoring 110.7 points per 100 possessions, matched alongside the 3rd best defensive efficiency by allowing 102.1 points per 100 possessions.
DeMar DeRozan is stupidly good, scoring just under 24 points per game on good efficiency. His ability as a passer has improved hugely over the last few years and he now is over 5 assists per game, and he has even started taking some threes. He should probably be in the MVP conversation to be honest. Kyle Lowry has taken a bit of a back seat to DeRozan, posting his lowest numbers in many areas during his all-star run in Toronto, most notably his points per game are down from 22.4 last year to 16.6 this year. Don't let that confuse you too much though, he's still every bit as good, he's just doing less now. He can launch off the dribble threes as well as anyone on this side of the Mississippi, he defends, he facilitates, and is generally really good.
Beyond their all-star backcourt, People seem to have finally gotten over the fact that Serge Ibaka is never going to be as good as they thought he would and just accept that he is a really nice complimentary piece on offense who can shoot and finish, while also remaining a very good defender. Jonas Valanciunas has kind of figured out some things and he has given Drummond all kinds of problems in the past (although less so in their first meeting). OG Anunoby is a steal out of this draft, some of his numbers have dropped off a bit lately, but he competes, he defends, is a really good athlete, and can shoot. Fred VanVleet has been a revelation and they will use him, Lowry, and DeRozan on the floor without fear. C.J. Miles is a relentless shooter who has no shame about chucking every time he gets the ball. Pascal Siakam is tall, athletic, and plays hard which is a nice combination, ditto for Jakob Poeltl. Delon Wright is a backup point guard who sometimes plays a bit still, Norman Powell has kind of fallen from the rotation but he will probably be back at some point.
This team has a great top two, lots of good players, and good continuity. Even if they end up crapping the bed in the playoffs again, you can win a ton of basketball games in the NBA with that combination. This team is really good.
Matchups to watch:
Drummond vs. Valanciunas: Last time these teams met was probably the first time that Drummond didn't get totally dominated by JV. Between that and playing well against Robin Lopez and Drummond has overcome some of his stranger demons, hopefully he keeps up that trend.
Raptors backcourt vs. Pistons backcourt: Yeah this is a comical mismatch with the starters, and it only gets worse with the bench. Smith brings the right kind of intensity defensively to bother Lowry, but they use him off-ball enough that Ish will lose him. The only good news is that the Pistons should have no problem putting Stanley Johnson on DeRozan which will be fun.
Pistons bench vs. Not being totally awful: Here's a crazy thing. The Pistons have gotten blown out in two straight games, the starting lineup is still positive. I'm not kidding. Per 100 possessions the starting lineup is +2.4. The Pistons have to figure out some way to not get destroyed when they stray from that lineup, and the Raptors bench is awesome.
Dwight Buycks/whoever vs. Competence: Jameer Nelson is probably done. He was worth giving a look and if it was earlier in the season I'd be in favor of letting him shoot himself into rhythm. The Pistons don't have that time though. Whether its Buycks, Galloway, or something freaky, the Pistons need something from whoever plays point when Ish isn't on the floor.
Offense vs. Keeping it going: Despite the terribleness of the last two games, the one positive is that the Pistons offense has largely been more together and comfortable with Blake Griffin. If the Pistons can keep it up the shots will start falling.
Pistons vs. Pulling one out for the culture: Look. The Pistons are playing the dreaded back-to-back-third-game-in-four-nights-with-travel-between-each-game against an awesome team that is rested. In all likelihood the Pistons will lose, and probably badly. Losing the Charlotte game like that hurt but it isn't the worst thing to lose to the top two teams in the conference. That said, if the Pistons could tough one out here, that would be big time for their confidence and the mindset of the team and fanbase. At least keep it close with some real results for the areas where they have been executing better.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
The Pistons open shooters finally regress up to the mean and start bombing the Raptors into oblivion.
Andre Drummond is totally over his demons against Valanciunas and is awesome.
Dwight Buycks injects life to the bench mob and they outplay their counter-parts.
Run for the hills if:
The Pistons decide they still don't really feel like defending three point shooters.
Kyle Lowry just starts hitting threes while Ish is like “wait you want me to keep guarding him for the entire possession what?”
The Pistons bench gets slaughtered again.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
A non-Jameer led bench crew is much better.
Drummond and Griffin build on some strangely good offensive vibes from the last game and play really well.
Pistons play with fire all game, Stanley Johnson steals DeRozan's soul, Lowry can't quite pull the Raptors to a win.
Pistons 108 – Raptors 107.
What do you think? Can the Pistons contain the Raptors all-stars? Can the Pistons bench not get destroyed?