Pistons [28-31] at Raptors [41-17]: Preview & 3 keys to victory

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 17: Jonas Valanciunas
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 17: Jonas Valanciunas /

The Raptors meet the Pistons, who have been struggling lately. Detroit has formidable big men, but their wingmen and guards aren’t competitive.

The Pistons visit the Air Canada Centre for the second time. Last month, the Toronto Raptors were lucky to prevail in a sloppy, low-scoring outing against Detroit. The Raptors led early, gave all of their 13-point Q1 margin back, then won Q4 and the game by 5 points.

Since then, the Pistons have turned over their roster dramatically, bringing in former LA Clipper Blake Griffin to juice up their 24th-ranked offense. The price they paid was steep; in giving up Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, they lost what little reliable outside shooting they had.

CHARLOTTE, NC – FEBRUARY 25: Teammates Ish Smith & Blake Griffin
CHARLOTTE, NC – FEBRUARY 25: Teammates Ish Smith & Blake Griffin /

While the early returns from the deal were positive for long-suffering Pistons fans, the team since has dropped five of their past six. They have surrendered their playoff spot to the Miami Heat, and even the Charlotte Hornets, who beat the Pistons badly on Sunday, are just one win behind.

Their backcourt is the primary reason why they can’t beat anyone. Ish Smith has been their starter by default, as Reggie Jackson will remained sidelined for some time yet. Smith can do a lot of positive things, but a woeful 26.7% rate from beyond the arc is unacceptable. Graybeard Jameer Nelson helps in small doses. Reggie Bullock at shooting guard doesn’t remind anyone of DeMar DeRozan, while the small forward is Stanley Johnson. In his third season and a lottery pick, the Pistons would be happy if he were to take one or more steps forward. Unless and until he does, he’s barely a journeyman.

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These three average a total of 29.3 points, which isn’t much more than DeRozan’s 23.9.

The Pistons are highly competitive up front, of course. Griffin and Andre Drummond complement each other’s skills well. Griffin can back down and score over anyone, or fire away from deep with great effect. Drummond leads the NBA in total rebounds, and the subset of offensive boards. Hack-an-Andre doesn’t pay anymore, as he’s hitting over 63% of his free-throw attempts, a remarkable improvement for which a big hat tip is in order.

The Pistons’ rotation players aren’t close to our group.

3 keys to Raptors victory

  1. Pack the paint. The Raptors have little to fear from the Pistons’ shooters, but Detroit can score inside. Ish Smith can penetrate and score off the dribble, or dish to their beastly big men. If Jonas Valanciunas stays out of foul trouble, and Serge Ibaka (and OG?) make passing or floaters difficult, their offense will suffer. Kyle Lowry taking a charge or two wouldn’t hurt either.
  2. Out-run them. JV is going to have his hands full keeping Drummond off the glass at either end. Assuming our man can pull down a few boards, those need to be turned into quick buckets. Drummond and Griffin can’t get back in transition.
  3. Move the ball. We’ve seen too many instances lately of the Craptors’ isolation offense. DeMar needs to dish, particularly to JV. OG has to start providing some scoring. Playing 4 on 5 seldom works.


The Bucks game should have been a wake-up call to the Raptors. Did they hear the bell? I’m going to say Yes, based more on faith than reason.

Toronto 115 – Detroit 102