Detroit defending the paint

Toronto entered Friday’s game with three items on their check list: clinch the Atlantic Division, tie a franchise record for wins and retain their position as the East’s third seed. Despite the loss, Toronto managed to clinch the division due to Brooklyn’s loss.

On Friday, six of the seven confirmed Eastern playoff teams swapped positions. Saturday the top two seeds switched back and the final seed (Atlanta) was confirmed. Seven of the eight teams have yet to cement their seeding, and aren’t likely to until the last games are played Wednesday.

This afternoon the Raptors will look to get back in the win column in Detroit before returning home to play Milwaukee tomorrow and finish the season Wednesday in New York.

Chicago, having supplanted Toronto as the third seed will be in New York in their own back-to back series with the back end at home vs. Orlando and they’ll finish in Charlotte. Unfortunately, the Knicks who came into Toronto desperate have since been eliminated and will have no motivation to play the Bulls with the same intensity and will likely rest injured star Anthony.

If Toronto wants to regain the third seed they need to take care of business by winning their final 3 games and hope Chicago loses one of theirs. The difference between Toronto and Chicago in March and April is Chicago has one additional win.  

With so much jockeying back and forth within the standings it’s hard for the Raptors to pick a preference of position. Ultimately Toronto’s best bet is to do what they’ve done all year and rebound following a loss with a series of wins. That starts today in Detroit, so let’s examine the match-up.

Detroit Jonas throws down

Before we break it down, JM Poulard of ESPN True Hoop Network and writer for Piston Powered was kind enough to answer a few questions.

While Toronto is in a dog fight with Chicago to capture the 3-seed, Detroit had a completely different focus of maintaining their position in 23rd (or 8th in the draft lottery). Charlotte had the rights to the Pistons pick, however it was draft protected to 8.  One could assume the front office probably mandated Coach Loyer to make sure they didn’t climb higher and the team delivered on this promise. Since Chicago won Friday it guaranteed the Pistons will retain their lottery pick.  With this objective resolved, do you think Loyer pushes the squad to play spoiler versus Toronto and OKC to close out the season on a high note? 

Honestly, it’s really tough to tell. It’s not like the Pistons were actually winning a multitude of games when they were trying to do so. Detroit “boasts” a bottom-third league defense, and they are the proud owners of the second-worst clutch rating in the league per NBA.com.

Detroit’s warts have an amazing knack for showing up in late-game situations. Thus, if the Pistons want to play the role of spoilers, it might basically not matter.

This past summer Joe Dumars acquired free agents Brandon Jennings (3 years/$24 million) and Josh Smith (4 years/$53 million). On paper the signings looked to be upgrades, however I posted it had the potential for disaster given the caustic nature of both players. Sure enough they are both having terrible seasons: many of Jennings stats have digressed and Smith has put up the most 3-point shots of his career (265) hitting on only 26% and has the lowest FG% of his career. Is this simply a chemistry issue and what can be done moving forward so these two players live up to their salaries?  

Here’s the dirty little secret about Brandon Jennings: this is who he’s always been. Jennings is a low-percentage shooter that enjoys taking difficult shots off the dribble. Placing him alongside players that need the ball in their hands to be effective was never going to work out well. Still, Detroit’s offensive rebounding prowess certainly goes hand in hand with Jennings’ insistence to take odd shots.

As it pertains to Josh Smith, his evolution is somewhat understandable. He’s a power forward that occasionally drifts to the perimeter and settles for long jumpers. And yet, the Pistons have opted to play him at small forward without actually thinking through the consequences.

Smith is an underrated passer and solid defensive player when engaged, but Pistons fans will find that hard to believe since they’ve only seen that player sporadically. I don’t expect any change from Jennings going forward, but Smith can certainly be salvageable depending on the team’s philosophy and scheme next season.

On the subject of Dumars I’m surprised owner Tom Gores didn’t fire him after the debacle that brought Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to the Pistons. To that end, several media outlets report he will resign at the end of the season and there is speculation he may already have a position in Cleveland. His tenure includes several highlights (2004 championship) and lowlights (overpaying athletes, firing a succession of coaches and missing the playoffs the past 5 seasons). What are your personal highs and lows of the Dumars reign? 

Joe Dumars pulled off one of the best and worst moves in Pistons history in less than a year. Dumars drafted Darko Milicic while the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were all still on the board.

His best move though? Trading for Rasheed Wallace. That move turned the Pistons into a title team. Dumars had a great read on the pulse of the 2003-04 team, and that allowed him to turn it into a title contender. An argument could be made that he has never had a better feel for any of his teams.

As for tonight’s match-up, aside from containing Detroit’s impressive front court what do the Raptors need to do to shut down the Pistons?

The Raptors need to be ready to defend the paint. The Pistons take a lot of shots in the restricted area via drives, post-ups and offensive rebounds. Toronto has done a good job this season of thwarting Detroit at the basket with their interior players, which explains why the Pistons have only converted 41.5 percent of their field goals versus Toronto.

As long as the Raptors protect the basket area with the same fervor, they should get an opportunity to win the game.

Injuries:

  • Josh Smith: patella tendinitis, listed as doubtful
  • Will Bynum, right foot,  listed as doubtful
Detroit Jonas defends Drummond

Positional Match-ups

Back Court — Lowery and DeRozan have been stellar all season especially following a loss. What more needs to be said.

As per JM, Jennings loves to take difficult shots and forget about his wealth of talent in the front court. Add in the added incentive of showing off for fellow Californian and friend DeRozan and we could see some real crazy shots from him today.  Stuckey replaces the injured Bynum as a starter. Last time out Stuckey had just 3 assists and 1 rebound to show for his 26-minutes on court.

Advantage — Toronto will dominate

Front Court —The marquee match-up of the day will be between Valanciunas and Drummond who have both been on a tear (see below). Johnson is still rusty after so much time off, however given how important today’s game is and the fact he always gets up for his old team it should translate into a big afternoon. Ross was not happy with the whistle or the difficult task of guarding Melo Friday so we’ll hopefully see a rebound game from him today.

Drummond is a beast and Monroe is equally talented, however they both leave a lot to be desired on the defensive end. Singler replaces Smith at the Small Forward.

Last 3 games:

Valanciunas: 19 points, 15.3 rebounds

Drummond: 18.6 points, 19 rebounds

Advantage — As per JM, Detroit love to score in the paint so taking away the paint and grabbing rebounds will be the Raptors emphasis today. Drummond will get his, but Toronto will take the category by game’s end. 

Bench — Patterson appears back in form and will create nightmares for whoever guards him.  Vasquez will have to guard Rookie Siva who has been getting more minutes due to injuries and had some good moments but it’s the type of contest GV thrives on. Bottom line without Smith or Bynum the Piston’s bench is pretty slim and with Toronto back to full health it should provide a big advantage for the Raptors.

Advantage — Raptors

Team Rating:

  • Toronto: 46-33  – offense- 10th, defense- 8th
  • Detroit: 29-51 – offense- 19th, defense- 25th

Other notables:

  • A win today will tie Raptor franchise record for most wins in a season (47).
  • Toronto is 7-3 in last 10 while Detroit is 3-7.
  • Since February 10th, Toronto has only lost 2 consecutive games once.
  • Two previous games versus Detroit at ACC were won by 21 and 14 points

Vegas Says: As of post time the Raptors favored by 6.5, over/under: 206 with public favoring Raptors by 56%

Tamberlyn Says — Expect the Raptors to come out focused and pounce on the Pistons. Look for a full 48-minute effort especially on the defensive end. In fairness, the defensive slippage had a lot to do with Patterson, Johnson and Lowry all missing games due to injury so they’ll want to get back on track starting today.

Toronto will sweep season series and win by 10+ points.