April 24, 2016. That was Game 4 of the first round matchup between the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers. While the Cavs eventually went on to be crowned champions, the Pistons licked their wounds and the countdown to the new season began.
Well, it’s here.
The NBA Draft, free agency, Summer League and training camp are all in the rear view and Detroit opens the regular season in Toronto against a Raptors team looking to break Cleveland’s strangle hold in the East.
When: Wednesday, October 26th at 7:30 PM EST
Where: Air Canada Centre; Toronto, Ontario
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
With the NBA opinionated consensus arriving at the notion that Cleveland will repeat as Eastern Conference champions, not everyone is completely sold including DBB’s Steve Hinson:
I just don't buy for a minute the idea that Cavs are as set for the finals as GS. I think the Raptors are the better team.— Steve Hinson (@Shinons8) October 20, 2016
At the very least, they’ve positioned themselves to be in the conversation and that fact alone shows you the talent Toronto has acquired.
A dynamic backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry is about as good as it gets in the Eastern Conference. Their drastically different style of play complements each other well and as always, they will be tough to keep in check.
DeRozan isn’t much of a deep threat but is one of the best isolation scoring wings the league has to offer. If you give him an inch, he’ll take a mile; as JR Smith briefly checks for a non-existent screen, DD has already made his move. Two points.
Detroit will throw a multitude of players at DeRozan to try and slow him down but a good chunk of the individual match up should include Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Lowry, on the other hand, can and will shoot from just about anywhere on the court as indicated by the over 200 made three-pointers last year. What makes the two-time All Star such a handful is his low center of gravity — “strong” is an understatement. During these two teams’ last preseason game, Ish Smith found out the hard way.
Lowry isn’t typically a post-up threat but at six-foot-nothing and a hundred ‘n nothing, Smith is going to give ground to Lowry’s bubble butt and there’s not a whole lot he can do about it. As with defending most All Stars though, it takes a team effort to contain them.
At center, the Raptors employ one of the more underappreciated players in the NBA with Jonas Valanciunas. The Lithuanian big man’s skill set continually gives the Pistons fits on both ends of the floor. He isn’t necessarily going to “wow” you with athleticism but his overly fundamental offensive game plays right into the weakness of Andre Drummond’s overly jump-y defense.
Valanciunas will pump fake at every opportunity, so keep your feet, Dre.
DeMarre Carroll is the Raptors’ best perimeter defender and completes the 3-and-D role with a solid three-point stroke. Carroll was plagued by injuries last year and while he might’ve lost half a step, his BBIQ is still top notch.
With no hedge or bump from the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi, no “two-nine” from Myles Turner or Paul George, and with the ever lost Monta Ellis trailing, Carroll curls off a simple Valanciunas pin down and turns it into an easy basket. That’s just smart — and easy -- basketball. Stan Van Gundy will have a stroke if that happens Wednesday night.
Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond
Injury report: Reggie Jackson (knee, hand)
Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas
Injury report: Jared Sullinger (foot)
Toronto on the road without Reggie Jackson is a tough draw for the season opener but it won’t be an automatic win for the Raptors. Ish Smith will need to push the pace when the opportunity arises on one end while staying in front of Kyle Lowry and relying on help defense on the other.
Smith does a good job of initially cutting off Lowry but there is no help/rotation from Harris and all Drummond offers is a hardy reach. If Lowry consistently keeps Smith on his hip, it’s going to be a long night.
You can probably pencil Drummond in for 15/15 but that won’t be enough. Drummond, along with Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris, will need to add scoring to Detroit’s offensive punch.
As much as I want to believe Detroit will win, I think Toronto takes this one 102-96. We’ll catch them again in February and hopefully at full strength. That, I think, will be a different story.