The Detroit Pistons have won seven of their last 10 games, but two of those losses came against the lowly Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards loss was a royal 98-77 ass-kicking, while Tuesday night's loss to the Cavs saw the Pistons blow a 17-point third-quarter lead. Tonight they play another of the league's worst in the Toronto Raptors, losers of seven of their past eight, and the Pistons look to go into the All-Star break with a win.
Game Tips at 7:00 P.M. EST
Detroit Pistons: 11 - 23 (3 - 13 road)
Toronto Raptors: 9 - 23 (4 - 11 home)
Good grief, I wasn't aware of just how bad the Raptor's roster was until I took a peak in preparation for this preview. Toronto will be without two of its most effective players tonight, as Andrea Bargnani is out with a strained calf ans Linas Kleiza is questionable after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. And when Kleiza is one of your top performers, you know your team is in trouble. The Raptors will trot out OK defense, no offense players Aaron Gray and former Piston Amir Johnson in the front court, and no D OK offense players Jose Calderon and DeMar DeRozan in the backcourt. Basically, the Raptors are waiting for recent draft pick Jonas Valanciunas to come from overseas and hope he has a defensive game good enough to compensate for Bargnani's defensive liabilities.
Detroit, for their part, is looking forward to not playing Kyrie Irving. Calderon is an extremely gifted passer and he could rack up 10 assists in the game, but he doesn't have the blazing speed that gave the Pistons so much trouble Tuesday in Cleveland.
Keys to the Game:
Feed the Moose -- This game is really Greg Monroe vs. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. The defensive specialist was hired away from the championship Dallas Mavericks, and he has put in his system and demands a defensive approach to the game -- hence Gray, and the Johnsons getting the starting nods.
The Raptors have greatly improved on last year's league-worst defense, and are giving up more than 10 points per game less this season. Some of that has to do with this year's slower pace but much of is Casey installing his defensive game plan. Monroe needs to deliver a 20-point, 10-rebound effort tonight. But that also means he needs more touches and have plays run for him because as we'll see, he probably won't get to rely on tip-ins around the basket.
Shoot over 45% -- I don't care who does it, but somebody has to make jump shots tonight for Detroit. The team has shot an abysmal 38 percent against the Cavs and 37 percent against the Celtics. The Raptors absolutely protect the paint -- they are first in opponents points per game in the paint and first in opponents offensive rebound percentage. The Pistons have shot an awful percentage all year and have counted on great offensive rebounding to put in second-chance points, but those probably won't be available tonight.
The Pistons shoot 33 percent from 3-9 feet (27th in league) and 33.6 percent from 10-15 feet (25th) so one or more of Ben Gordon, Brandon Knight or Tayshaun Prince must get hot from the floor.
Stuckey at the charity stripe -- Rodney Stuckey had his first sub-par game in a while in the loss to Cleveland, but he could bounce back big time tonight. Stuckey is most effective when he can use his athleticism to get to the free-throw line and he should have plenty of opportunities tonight. The Raptors foul more than any team in the league, and give up 27 free-throw attempts per game. The Pistons recent hot streak has seen them rely on energy and aggression, and they haven't been afraid to try and force the issue and get to the foul line. They are also one of the best foul shooting teams in the league.
Question of the Game:
How many players on the Raptors would you like to see on the Pistons roster?