Tonight at 8:00pm EST the Pistons will be back at home to host the Toronto Raptors for a nationally televised game. The Pistons are on one day of rest after losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, while the Raptors are on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Hawks last night.
The Pistons playoff chances are pretty much done. It is still possible they go on a run once Reggie Jackson returns and one of the teams above them falls apart (that second bit is actually fairly likely) but that is a long shot. The Pistons also already have 29 wins so its pointless to tank. As such, I'm into full eye-test mode. I'm not going to stress over the fact that every loss shrinks their already tiny playoff chances, I'm looking at what is working and what isn't. You all can despair all you want, I'm just letting you know the mind-set of the previews and recaps from here on out.
The Raptors are stupidly good. Until they shake it with a great playoff apperance they will still have the cloud of past playoff failures hanging over them, but this years team may be different. By most metrics they are not only clearly the best team in the East, they are the true number 3 team in the NBA. They come into the game featuring the 4th best offensive efficiency in the NBA by scoring 110.8 points per 100 possessions, and the 3rd best defensive efficiency by allowing 102.4 points per 100 possessions. Yeah, the Raptors are really stinking good.
The Raptors are of course led by their all-star backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is a brilliant scorer who has even added a dash of three-point shooting to his game, he also has become a great passer. Kyle Lowry has taken a bit of a back seat but is the best off-the-dribble three point launcher this side of the Mississippi, is a great facilitator, and plays defense. Serge Ibaka is something akin to a really high level 3 and D big. Jonas Valanciunas can score and rebound, but if Drummond has another good game tonight then the Valanciunas owning Drummond meme can probably finally die. Something called Malcolm Miller started for them last night at small forward. Fred VanVleet is a shooty point guard who defends. C.J. Miles is a shameless chucker who is pretty freaking good at it. Jakob Poeltl is big, strong, fairly athletic, and plays hard at the center spot. Pascal Siakam is basically the same thing as Poeltl but Siakam plays mostly power forward. Delon Wright can shoot and do basic guard stuffs. OG Anunoby has missed the last few games (hence this Malcolm Miller fellow starting last night) but may come back for this one.
This team has a great 1-2 punch at the top, has a stable of really solid players beyond that, and has continuity and comfort with themselves.
Matchups to watch:
Who's playing? OG Anunoby may or may not play. While it isn't a big deal, having a freshly minted 10-day contract starting isn't ideal for the Raptors. Stanley Johnson's back tightened up on him in practice and Luke Kennard was sick so Reggie Hearn is up from the Drive. Worth watching.
Drummond vs. Valanciunas: If Drummond takes care of business in this matchup tonight then the meme can die. Please let this meme die. Also if Drummond isn't getting owned by Valanciunas he suddenly becomes kind of a problem for the Raptors.
Ibaka vs. Griffin: Ibaka isn't the caliber player as Griffin but he's still good. Griffin will have to work on offense for his numbers and also can't fall asleep on defense.
Ish Smith vs. Kyle Lowry: Ish Smith has played terrible defense lately and I'm not sure what happened to be honest. He's never been all that good but he hasn't been this bad. He needs to get himself together to keep Lowry from scoring so many easy points.
The Pistons vs. DeRozan: If Stanley Johnson is healthy and ready to go this gets less scary. Johnson won't stop him but he can keep him in check. If Johnson is out though I don't like where this matchup is headed.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Stanley Johnson plays and he steals DeRozan's soul.
THE MEME CAN DIE.
Blake Griffin continues to look more comfortable and puts up a monster game.
Run for the hills if:
The meme will never die. Jonas Valanciunas owns Andre Drummond.
Stanley Johnson doesn't play or isn't 100% and DeRozan scores a lot of points.
Kyle Lowry basically has a layup line of open three-pointers.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
The Pistons really are a different team at home, play less sloppy.
The Raptors are tired.
Blake Griffin dominates the game with his first huge stat-game in a win.
Pistons 115 – Raptors 107. (plz)
What do you think? Can Griffin continue to get comfortable? Can the Pistons defend anyone?