It’s been a minute since the last Raptors game. With five weeks of back-to-backs in a row (2-3 on the 1st night and 1-4 on the second night) and the toughest part of our schedule behind us (the Western road swing and 16 road games overall) the Raptors still have a chance to close the gap to .500 by the end of 2009 with games against the Pistons (tonight and Sunday) and Charlotte. It wont be easy, but if there is some effort and consistency, this team can get to 15-18 heading into the New Year.
The Raptors currently have the 7th seed, gotta love the East right? Better yet, the Pistons have lost 5 in a row and are close to free-fall status, but sit half a game out of 8th (.407 seems good enough to get you into the playoffs).
The Raptors head into Auburn Hills to face the Pistons on the first night of a home-and-home. This Pistons team is on the same level as the Raptors: middle of the pack/can fall anywhere form 5th to 10th in the East depending on how they battle on a game by game basis. They are free-falling a bit, half in part to a tough road schedule they just came off, and the other half due to some nagging injuries to important players (Prince/Hamilton have both played only 3 games this season, Gordon’s been injured and almost everyone else is listed day-to-day).
Coming off a loss to Charlotte last night means the Pistons will have to come out of the gates with their guns blazing if they hope to have any chance of taking this one. Ben Gordon is key tonight, if he is injured again, finding that instant offense will get challenging considering Hamilton will probably sit too. If you remember the last game, when Wright checked in to cover Gordon, the Pistons struggled long enough for the Raptors to take full control of the game.
Detroits injury situation will dictate how much burn Wright gets. The guy’s been in the doghouse, but he plays solid defense and was the only reason Ben Gordon didn’t score more then he did last time. Both Gordon and Hamilton thrive on taking their man off screens and creating great scoring opportunities. I just don’t trust DeRozan/Weems/Belinelli to play the type of defense necessary to shut them down, I’m sorry. I know there is a huge love-fest going on for Weems now, but the guy is a 9th man off the bench kind of player, can’t expect too much from him.
I hate to say it, but with Calderon out, it seems as though the defense at the point guard spot has improved. Jack is playing at the same level, but Banks was right, he is a game changer on defense, lol. Ok, he’s no Artest, but he’s better then Calderon which means that Stuckey, and especially Bynum, wont be running as rampant as they were the last time out. Bynum especially makes me nervous with his speed and dribble penetration, Stuckey does a pretty good job of that too, but Bynum comes off the bench which makes that attack constant on the Raptors defense. He lit the Raptors up the last time, and we had no answer for him.
There isn’t much standing in the way of Bosh and Bargnani to both have big nights again. Villanueva is great, but he givs up as much as he takes and Ben Wallace only brings rebounding and some defense to the table (the Pistons are effectively short-handed on offense with Big Ben on the court).
The game will probably be ugly, but it is very winnable for the Raptors. The Pistons are on the second night of a back-to-back, injury ridden and in the midst of a 5 game losing streak. You really couldn’t set the stage any better. Not much of a leap here, but expect a win tonight. The Pistons don’t match-up well against us at all when they are healthy, much less when they are mangled.