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Pistons at Raptors preview: Battered Pistons face tough international test

Buckle in guys, this one’s going to be rough

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors are 15-3 at home this season, are tied with the Rockets for best Non-Warriors Net Rating in the NBA at 7.3, and are coming off a 34-point shellacking of the Cleveland Cavaliers (and, maybe more impressively, a down-to-the-wire loss to the Golden State Warriors) in which their second-best player (Kyle Lowry) did not play.

The Detroit Pistons are 9-14 on the road this season, are struggling to keep their heads above water in terms of Net Rating (they’re currently at a -0.2 Net Rtg on the year), and have lost to the Magic, Bulls, and Hornets since point guard Reggie Jackson went down.

I’m not gonna lie to y’all, this one is not looking good for our boys.

Game Vitals:

When: Wednesday, January 17, 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Watch: FSN Detroit, NBA League Pass
Wager: Detroit +7.5


Toronto is an even more intimidating team that they’ve been in the past because of three things:

  1. The (somehow) improved play of DeMar DeRozan. The 28-year-old shooting guard appears to add more moves to his quiver every year - and his latest arrow is his most potent. DeRozan is finally comfortable taking more three-point shots, and it’s made him more dangerous offensively. Previously, DeRozan shot 29 percent from three on 1.5 attempts for his career. This year, he’s shooting 35.6 percent from three on 3 attempts a game. That (relatively) small jump in attempts and percentage has translated into by FAR the best true shooting percentage of his career (58 percent) and forced teams to defend him even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.
  2. Their startling depth. The Raptors have 11 players who have played meaningful (600+) minutes for them this season, five players who are averaging double figures in points (DeRozan, Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, and C.J. Miles), and have the best Non-Warriors bench Net Rtg in the NBA. Even though the Pistons boast the league’s best bench defensive rating, the Raptors’ bench is nipping at their heels - and is better offensively, to boot.
  3. OG Anunoby has been everything Pistons fans had hoped Stanley Johnson could be directly out of the gate for the Raptors. The bruising Anunoby has been an excellent defender, defending the likes of James Harden and LeBron James with equal dexterity, and is also sporting a 59 percent true shooting percentage and 37 percent three-point shooting on 12.2 percent usage. He’s a perfect complementary piece to the DeRozan/Lowry/Ibaka core - threatening enough offensively that teams can’t ignore him, and fearsome enough defensively that the Raptors don’t miss the likes of P.J. Tucker.

The Pistons, on the other hand, have been going through it. Of course, the Pistons will still be without Reggie Jackson and Jon Leuer, who are both out with ankle injuries. Avery Bradley and Luke Kennard are going to try to play through various injuries tonight, and the status of Stanley Johnson is still up in the air:

The team’s offensive rating has sunk slowly without Reggie Jackson, while coach Stan Van Gundy continues to preach victory through superior defense despite the Pistons being a top-10 team in defensive rating. Teams have begun keying their defenses to keep Tobias Harris out of the lane, and Avery Bradley continues to be miscast as a primary offensive option because of lack of better options.

The injuries are debilitating, but I think they haven’t been weighted correctly with regards to fan expectations. I tweeted about this earlier this week:

At full strength, this Pistons team should be relatively competitive with the Raptors. Missing three key members (Reggie, Jon, Stanley) against a team as good as the Raptors is a death knell. And that bell will continue to toll until the Pistons are more healthy than they are right now.

Projected Lineups:

Detroit: Ish Smith, Avery Bradley, Reggie Bullock, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond

Toronto: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas


Detroit 97, Toronto 110

Andre falls for the Valanciunas pump fake twice, I cry a little.