Pre-game news and notes: Kyle Lowry returns vs. Pistons

Is it playoffs yet?

I know, I know. None of you are concerned as the Toronto Raptors visit the Detroit Pistons, because everyone’s dialed in on Raptors 905 opening their postseason schedule at the exact same time. It’s a tough life, dual-screening it, but here we are. The Raptors’ game might not be all that meaningful given the uncertainty with seeding, but it means a lot to the Pistons, and the Raptors need to bounce back from a shaky outing Tuesday.

Let’s not waste more time and get right into our now-nightly look around the league. We’re going to make this round-up a regular pre-game news & note feature the rest of the way, and maybe even introduce it on non-game days:

  • 1-2 seed: Boston hosts Cleveland – This game could essentially decide the one-seed in the East. With a win, Cleveland would go a game up and own the tiebreaker. With a loss, the teams would draw even and go to secondary tiebreakers, with Boston owning a one-game edge with four games to go. The Raptors could have a much better idea of potential second-round matchups after tonight. Tristan Thompson is out in order to get an MRI on his thumb, by the way, a potentially huge development for the Cavs. (Cleveland has a 51-percent chance at the one seed, per Inpredictable’s model.)
  • 3-4 seed: The Raptors visit the Pistons while the Wizards have the night off. Toronto losing yesterday while Washington won drew the teams back even, but the Raptors own the tiebreaker and are therefore in control of their own fate. Whether third is preferable to fourth given first and second round matchups remains to be seen, of course. (Toronto has a 52-percent chance of finishing third, per Inpredictable.)
  • 5-6 seed: Milwaukee and Atlanta are both off. Yesterday created a bit of separation between the sixth and seventh seed, making it a bit more likely these teams are drawing the three and four seeds. A lot can still change, but Milwaukee, in particular, seems likely to be able to avoid Cleveland, likely every five-through-ninth seeds goal. (Milwaukee has a 52-percent chance at the five-seed, per Inpredictable. Atlanta finishes in each spot from fifth to ninth in at least eight percent of scenarios.)
  • 7-9 seeds: Chicago is off, Indiana is off, and Miami visits Charlotte. The Heat have an important one here, as they’re a half game back of both Chicago and Indiana and this is their game “in hand” of sorts to pull even. When all three teams are tied, Indiana comes out behind in the tiebreaker scenario. Also of note is that Dwyane Wade is targeting a return ahead of schedule, possibly suiting up as soon as Sunday. (Miami has a 35-percent chance of making the playoffs. Indiana has a 78-percent chance of getting in. Chicago has a 91-percent chance. These odds will swing wildly with a Miami win tonight.)
  • 10-11 seeds: Charlotte hosts Miami and Detroit hosts Toronto. Neither of these teams is mathematically eliminated yet, but their odds of sneaking in are fairly slim, and they’re basically off the radar from a Raptors’ perspective. (Charlotte has an eight-percent chance of getting in. Detroit misses the playoffs in almost all scenarios, though they’re not officially out yet.)

The game tips off at 7:30 on TSN 4/5 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
As noted in my preview, I bumped Kyle Lowry from OUT to TBD below, since he practiced partially on Monday, was working out before the game on Tuesday, and was noncommittal beyond yesterday’s game. The game notes officially listed him as questionable, the first time that’s been the case since he underwent surgery. So that’s a positive! I figured there was maybe a 20-percent chance he plays here, and if he does, the team will probably keep it quiet as long as they can (there was no shootaround today on account of the back-to-back). If Lowry can go, the rotation for at least a half might look like something close to a dress rehearsal, with Dwane Casey using the opportunity to figure some playoff rotation questions out.

UPDATE: LOWRY IS BACK, per Dwane Casey ahead of tip off. Here’s a column on what Lowry’s return could mean for the team. Cliff notes: This is unspeakably huge. Lowry will get as many as four games to find a chemistry with the team’s new additions, to find his shooting stroke, and for Casey to figure out his playoff rotations. This marks five weeks and one day since his surgery, just outside of the initial optimistic timeline but ahead of the back end of the doctor’s four-to-six week prognosis. It’s terrific news no matter how it’s sliced and no matter how the Raptors approach his minutes and workload in his first game back. This is cause for excitement.

The Raptors went 14-7 during Lowry’s 21-game absence, a minor miracle. They’ve still been outscored with him off the floor this season, though, which speaks to how important he was prior to his injury. Adding him back in to a team that’s thrived on the defensive end should only help on that side, and on offense, the surging DeMar DeRozan gets his best floor spacer, playmaker, and complementary piece back. The Raptors should tick upward on offense once Lowry’s rounded into form, and it’ll be interesting to see just how big a two-way threat they look once he’s acclimated back in. And no, I can’t stop thinking of DeRozan attacking in much the same way he has the last two months but with less attention from defenses who have to mind Lowry. It could be beautiful.

Lowry, of course, might not be ready for a full workload right out of the gate and may not fully be himself after weeks off. That’s the benefit of getting him back with eight days left in the regular season – he’ll get up to four games and three practices in, plus whatever time the Raptors have between next Wednesday’s finale and their postseason opener. This is such good news. I’m smiling. And I don’t really smile.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam
OUT: None

Pistons updates
Reggie Jackson remains out with a knee injury, and it’s likely he’ll be shut down for the season sometime soon. He’s been banged up most of the year and only rarely looked like himself. He could be joined on the sidelines by Reggie Bullock (foot) and Michael Gbinije (ankle), who have both been out with no timeline given for a return. Bullock is officially questionable, while Gbinije is out with an illness separate of his ankle injury. Neither really factor into the rotation in a major way, although it would stand to reason that Gbinije would see some ample time if the Pistons fold up shop over the season’s final week. (UPDATE: Bullock is a go.)

Even without Jackson, the Pistons have some familiar lineups handy. Their most commonly used lineup doesn’t include Jackson, anyway – their starters with Tobias Harris in place of Jon Leuer have played 486 minutes together (-5.8 net rating), and their starters as constructed have played 185 minutes as a group (-5.0), fourth most on the team. And no, they don’t have many good frequently used lineups.

PG: Ish Smith, Beno Udrih
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Darrun Hilliard, Reggie Bullock
SF: Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson,
PF:Jon Leuer, Tobias Harris, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Aron Baynes, Boban Marjanovic
TBD: None
OUT: Reggie Jackson, Michael Gbinije


The line
The Raptors are 1-point favorites after opening as 2-point underdogs. As predicted in the preview, that line always seemed likely to flip the other way, or at least move to a pick-em. Even on the second night of a back-to-back, and even if Lowry doesn’t play, the Raptors should be able to take care of this one. The over-under is at 201.