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Pistons vs. Raptors preview: Improving Pistons head north to face Raptors

Detroit is already 2-0 against the Raptors this season

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

You know how this goes.

If there’s one opponent that you can guarantee the Detroit Pistons will be ready to play against, it’s the Toronto Raptors. Dwane Casey is 8-3 against his former team since taking over in Detroit, and the Pistons are 2-0 against them this season.

Now, playing some of their best ball of the season, they’ll look for another win in Toronto.

Game Vitals

Where: Scotiabank Arena in Toronto
When: Thursday, March 3 at 7:30 pm
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons (+8.5)

Analysis

I’ll be honest: I thought the Pistons would be much better this year.

My preseason thinking was that they would just be bad. Not terrible. They would be feisty, beat some good teams, and finish with like 27-30 wins. MAYBE they would contend for the play-in tournament, but that was the absolute best case scenario.

I was wrong — very wrong.

The Pistons has oscillated between being bad and being terrible. They’ve lost close games, they’ve gotten blown out, and they’ve fallen into depressing losing streaks. However, I think they’re starting to resemble the team I expected them to be.

They’re 3-2 over their past five games, boasting a 113.1 offensive rating and a 115.2 defensive rating. That minus-2.1 net rating (18th in the NBA over that span) isn’t anything special, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we’ve seen throughout the season.

It just seems like things are coming together. Killian Hayes is playing better, finally. Cade Cunningham is starting to really make the clutch time his time. Saddiq Bey has found his groove, while Jerami Grant has fit in with the youth movement. Isaiah Stewart is defending his butt off, and Kelly Olynyk and Hamidou Diallo are find their groove off the bench.

It’s little improvements, but you’re seeing it across the board.

That brings us to Toronto.

They come in as 8-point underdogs over at DraftKings Sportsbook, which comes as a bit of a surprising considering the Pistons have had their way with the Raptors this season and, really, throughout Casey’s tenure in Detroit.

They’ll also face a depleted version of the Raptors tonight as OG Anunoby is out and Fred VanVleet is questionable. They’ve still gotta deal with Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam, though. Barnes has slowed down a bit since his torrid all-around start, but he’s in the midst of a truly ridiculous stretch, hitting 36 of his last 50 shots (72%) from the field.

Nick Nurse has done a great job finding ways to get him easy shots. I know he’s mentioned as being a Rookie of the Year favorite over Cade, and his numbers have been great, but I cannot think of a lottery pick who was blessed with a better situation than him.

He’s got a pair of high-end veteran teammates in VanVleet and Siakam, both All-Stars at their best, as well as one of the best shooters in the league in Gary Trent Jr. Scottie just has to be the glue guy, the janitor who cleans up with what’s leftover. It’s the perfect role.

I’m bullish on him being a player you can win with, but I don’t think he’s the player you win with, if that makes sense. He’s great in this supplementary role. He’s not going to be as impactful as the Raptors’ alpha.

Barnes has actually been at his worst this season against Detroit. He’s averaging just 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3 assists on 35/0/75 shooting. It’s not a coincidence that the Raptors have struggled against Pistons when he struggles.

That’s the key tonight for Detroit.

Projected Lineups

Toronto Raptors (34-27)

Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr., Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Khem Birch

Detroit Pistons (15-47)

Cory Joseph, Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart

Question of the Day

Do you think the Pistons really just play harder against the Raptors for Dwane Casey or is it actually a good matchup for them?

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