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Toronto Raptors Detroit Pistons January 14, 20110

A win against the Hawks would have been nice, but you have to believe that the game went a long way in helping this team mature. From what I saw, the Raptors played a great game until the final couple minutes where the Hawks experience and skill level was just too much to overcome. While the loss was a heart-breaker, the team shouldn’t hang their heads low and mope. They weathered a ridiculous 62 point outburst from Crawford and Johnson and were in it until the final seconds.

The one thing to take away from the game was that you have to always be playing for the win. Jose’s attempt to draw a foul on Horford on his last drive makes the point. From the moment he picked up his dribble, you knew nothing good was going to come of it. Horford did a great job of maintaining position and challenging the ball, while Calderon wasn’t able to draw enough contact to get the call. Would Kobe/LeBron/Wade got that call? Maybe, probably; but the Raptors don’t have that luxury. There was plenty of time from the inbound pass to run a play, and Calderon just lost his nerve and tried to force the issue.

If you want to blame anyone, lob it towards Triano for scripting a brutal out-of-bounds play that was doomed from the moment they left the huddle. There was nothing creative in the set, the Hawks switched on everything and defended with relative ease…

The last time these guys played, I had the fortune of not witnessing a 22 point embarrassment on the Raptors home floor. McGrady and Hamilton combined for 52 (seems to be a reoccurring theme of the Raptors losing when the opposing teams shooting guards go off); 17 of which coming from McGrady who seemed to have found his mojo against the Raptors and has been pretty good since.

Had a great chat about the Pistons with Patrick Hayes from Piston Powered:

Lots of drama with Kuester since day 1. I know he needed to have a loud voice with this team, and not pander to players like the whole Iverson fiasco, but it seems to be coming at a cost. What’s your assessment of this situation and Kuesters abilities? Will Kuester last, or will both Prince and Hamilton need to get traded for this team to have any chance?
John Kuester waited as long as he possibly could to bench Rip Hamilton. Michael Curry was fired after one season as coach largely because he couldn’t fix his relationship with Hamilton, so Kuester trudged on last season and most of this season with Hamilton as his starter, even as it became painfully obvious to everyone who watched the team that Hamilton just isn’t the same player he used to be. He’s in the midst of his third straight poor season, and Kuester, understandably, tried to make things work because of Joe Dumars’ reputation as an executive who will side with the players over the coach when there are conflicts.

Kuester inherited a horribly imbalanced roster with too many rotation players in the back-court to get them all sufficient minutes, no depth in the front-court and a point guard in Rodney Stuckey who might not be a point guard. There are plenty of things that aren’t his fault in that regard. But still, the team looks poorly prepared at times, the Pistons routinely give up leads in the third quarter, suggesting that halftime adjustments are a major weakness of the coaching staff and Kuester hasn’t established any type of legitimate rotation his entire tenure as coach.

It’s hard to predict whether or not he’ll last. I’d be surprised if he’s back, based on Dumars’ belief that this was a playoff caliber team. The ownership situation further clouds things — the team is on the verge of (hopefully) being sold, and there’s no guarantee that anyone will be back right now.

Over the last 4 games Greg Monroe is averaging 13.5pts 11rebs, coinciding with his inclusion in the starting lineup. What’s changed for him and what do you think of the kid?
Monroe’s development has been the best part of the season, by far. He looked lost at the beginning of the year. He couldn’t finish in traffic (he was shooting below 40 percent his first month or so), he was not strong enough to hold position on defense and his passing, which was what he was known for in college, was rarely ever seen.

Now, he’s their best front-court player. He’s confident, he’s become craftier around the rim (a necessity since he’s not the most athletic guy) and, to everyone’s surprise, he’s consistently been the team’s best rebounder. Monroe wasn’t known for that in college, but it has been a pleasant surprise considering the Pistons are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league.

I don’t know exactly what has changed, other than he’s the one player Kuester has done a good job managing. The better Monroe has played, the more he’s been rewarded with increased minutes. Not everyone on the roster can say that.

If the Pistons/Nets/Nuggets trade goes through, and you guys land Murphy/Petro, how much will the Pistons improve?
A lot depends on how healthy Murphy is. He’s been terrible in New Jersey. But if he can return to the double-double caliber player he was in Indiana, the Pistons still have an outside shot at the eighth seed. Hamilton being gone would remove a big part of the locker room tension/chemistry issues, it would free up more playing time for Ben Gordon and Austin Daye, who are both better than Hamilton at this point even though Gordon also is having a poor season and lost his starting job just a couple weeks after being rewarded with it, and Murphy/Petro would certainly make the Pistons a bigger team.

Of course, I’m not sure getting that eighth seed will be a positive thing when it would cost a lottery pick to do it, but some team has to make the playoffs I guess, and the Pistons have as good a shot as any of the bottom feeders to string a few wins together and get in.

If Hamilton gets moved, can we expect Prince to be jettisoned as well? What is the market for him and what do you think the Pistons get back, and want, in a trade?
Again, a lot of this depends on the ownership situation. The Pistons have been in a position where they can’t add long-term salary with the team up for sale, so that’s severely limited Dumars’ trade options. I would suspect that if Hamilton is moved, they’d be more inclined to keep Prince, who also has an expiring contract, then use the money to pursue free agents in the off-season.

If Hamilton isn’t moved, then maybe they’d look at some options for Prince. He’d certainly help a contending team, and as an upcoming free agent, the investment in Prince wouldn’t be significant. He’s still a reliable fourth or fifth option-type player on a good team. He defends, he’s smart, he’s a good passer who can run an offense in a pinch, he hits shots from the perimeter and has a decent post-game. If they can’t trade Hamilton, Prince becomes basically the only chance to improve, since I can’t see any other team taking on Hamilton’s contract.

If Rip is traded, I’d be Prince stays while the Pistons pursue a smaller scale deal, possibly finding someone to take Jason Maxiell and the remaining years on his contract.

How do the Pistons match up with the Raptors, and what will be the gameplan heading into the game tonight?
In a word, poorly. The Pistons don’t defend the three particularly well. They struggle to defend athletic big men with high motors like Amir Johnson. They struggle with stretch fours like Andrea Bargnani. They struggle with athletic wings like DeMar DeRozan. And competent point guards like Jose Calderon often have their way picking apart the Pistonss’ defense. Detroit finally got some revenge with the 22-point win in Toronto in December, but before that, the Raptors had delivered three really embarrassing losses to the Pistons. And with their lineup changes — Tracy McGrady, Chris Wilcox and Greg Monroe are all starting — the team is far from a sound defensive bunch.

Injury Report

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Out
Peja Stojakovic – Out
Sonny Weems – No idea
Jose Calderon – Day to day
Jerryd Bayless – Day to day

Detroit
Ben Wallace – Day to day
Chris Wilcox – Day to day

Match-ups

Point Guard
While Bibby stuck that game winning 3 like a champ, Calderon did a solid job of disrupting his flow from the perimeter up until that point; you can’t even blame him for losing Bibby through the screen, there was more than enough of that to go around. Tonight against Stuckey he has himself a different kind of beast to deal with. Rodney is more a combo guard than a traditional PG, so he’s not a natural floor leader and does very little to get people involved and execute plays; assisting on just 1 in 5 of his possessions. He does very well at getting his shot off in the short to mid-range, but struggles to get to the rim and hit long jumpers/treys.

Expect Jose to be back-pedalling most of the game. The danger will be when Rodney posts Jose/Bayless; his size and strength give him a huge advantage. Defensively, he’s going to give Jose/Bayless a tough time with his size and agility in one-on-one situations.

Offensively, off the high-screen, Calderon will pick apart the Pistons all night. I’m actually worried about Will Bynum, who’s torched us in the past with his speed, shooting and play-making. He hasn’t played a great deal over the last couple games, 4 DNP-CD, but could be a match-up that Kuester would want to roll.

McGrady could start at the point as he did against Memphis, which could be bad if his shot is on. While he sees the floor well, he’s not a playmaker off the dribble. He’ll probably get whatever shot he wants, but as long as Jose doesn’t give him too much space, and doesn’t give up a lot of good looks, I can live with McGrady trying to take matters into his own hands.
Edge: Raptors

Shooting Guard
Sadly, there’s nothing satisfying about seeing a broken down T-Mac end up on a dysfunctional Pistons team; the guy had his run. At this stage in his career, Tracy should be providing spot up shooting and play-making for a contender off the bench, but dems da breaks yea? What’s hurting the Pistons is some really brutal play by Ben Gordon, and Kuester’s inability, up until recently, to manage Rip Hamilton. Don’t get it twisted, all these guys have hurt the Raptors in the past, and can go off if left unchecked.

After that beating that DeMar took at the hands of Crawford/Johnson on Wednesday, he should be looking to exact some revenge, and can get off early by taking it to a broken down McGrady, who will have to rely on his veteran savvy to deal. Off the bench, Barbosa should have no problems taking Gordon off the bounce, and has shown enough defensive resiliency to not give Ben the space needed to find his rhythm. If DeRozan rebounds from the a bad game against the Hawks, he can really put pressure on Detroit.

A quick note on Hamilton: the guy seems to have checked out, and with the trade rumours going around, his recent benching might have sucked all the drive out of him. Still, doesn’t mean that the Raptors should let up, since their defense has been known to rejuvenate guys and give them career nights.
Edge: Detroit

Small Forward
Prince has also had friction with Kuester, but unlike Hamilton, he’s hasn’t checked out and has been able to produce when he’s playing. I’m calling a big game from him since Kleiza sucks. Not only does he suck, Triano is indulging him for reasons unknown. I’d love to see Wright get 30 minutes tonight, but he won’t. My hope is that BryCo will turn Peja into a starting small forward who’s athletic and comes to play, a Wesley Matthew’s type…to dream…
Edge: Detroit

Power Forward
I don’t know a great deal about Monroe, but the Georgetown product has flipped the switch and is one of the few bright spots for this team. He’s a big boy who plays exclusively in the paint and on the glass. He has the ability to step out and hit a mid-range jumper, but if he lives out there, it will be to the Raptors advantage. Defensively, he doesn’t have the speed to keep up with Amir or Bargnani in transition, and will probably lose his fair share of 50/50 balls off the rim against Amir/Ed. However, he has had some nice games against solid front courts in the last few, so he needs to be accounted for.

Off the bench, Villanueva brings a totally different dynamic to this, and will force Amir/Bargnani to the perimeter and out of the paint. He’s averaging 17.5pts in 24min against the Raptors this season; so he’s been scoring at will and making a mess of the Raptor defense.
Edge: Even

Center
It’s getting hard to say the same thing about the majority of Bargnani’s match-ups: he can score at will, poses match-up problems, doesn’t rebound. I’m not even going to try…Bargnani for 27/8 tonight.
Edge: Toronto

Keys to the Game

Crash the Boards
The Pistons are the second worst rebounding team in the league, and with Ben Wallace injured, will have trouble dealing with the Raptors size in the front court. Both Stuckey and Prince rebound well at their positions, and with Monroe coming into his own, it wont be a cake-walk. However, the Pistons just don’t have horses to battle the Raptors for a full 48.

Post Play
Another benefit of Wallace’s injury is the lack of defense in the paint against the Raptors bigs, and hopefully, a slashing DeRozan.  While the Pistons have a couple big boys to plant in the key, none of them has the defensive chops to challenge and change shots. Bargnani could have a field day backing Wilcox into the paint, turning and shooting; leaving Amir/Ed to clean up the boards and do the dirty work.

Triano
After the loss to the Hawks, there is potential for the Raptors to come into this game deflated.  Here’s hoping that the coaching staff can keep morale up and remind the team about the 22 point loss the last time out. Also, calling some proper out-of-bound plays would be nice, whatever…

The Line

The gamblers have the Raps as 5.5 point favourites with an over/under of 207. I may not have painted a real rosy picture for the Raptors, but they definitely have what it takes to win this game. You can bet your ass that they remember that embarrassing loss and will want to exact some revenge.

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