This seems ridiculous here on March 7, but the Toronto Raptors can clinch a playoff spot with a victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
The Raptors are once again winners of five in a row, and while they’re playing on the second night of a back-to-back, none of their players hit the 30-minute mark on Tuesday. It’s possible the Raptors look past Detroit here and stumble as a result. They do have the Houston Rockets coming in on Friday, and they haven’t exactly been coming out a house afire against lesser teams. Still, they’ve gotten it done almost every time – they haven’t lost to a bad team since Boxing Day, and they continue to look the part of a true contender on the stats page. The focus remains on the how, and nothing will change on that front, even as they push for 60 wins.
The Pistons, meanwhile, are fighting for their playoff lives and perhaps the job of their head coach. They have not responded well to that pressure, losing nine of 11 since a 4-0 post-Blake Griffin acquisition bump. Lose here, and the Pistons are more or less only mathematically still alive, hope extinguished ahead of Reggie Jackson’s return and a six-game west coast road trip. They should be desperate. They’re also down their best defender here, more than evening out the continued absence of OG Anunoby. It will be interesting to see if they play with that desperation that’s been curiously absent the last few weeks.
The game tips off at 8 on TSN 4/5 and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.
OG Anunoby didn’t even travel with the Raptors for this 24-hour trip, getting any questions as to his availability out of the way early. As noted earlier, he was using the stationary bike and rowing machine at practice on Monday, and he wasn’t using a walking boot on Tuesday. He told Raptors Republic he’s feeling better and it’s coming along, but not with enough detail to accurately judge a return timeline. Obviously, Friday would be great.
In the interim, the small forward minutes will continue to be shared by Malcolm Miller, Norman Powell, and a red-hot C.J. Miles. In the last four games (only one half of which Anunoby played), the minutes with the starters have broken down as follows: Powell – 30 (-3), Miller – 29 (+5), Anunoby – 8 (+2), Miles – 3 (-2). This seemed like an opportunity to sneak Miles some more minutes with the starters, but those have often come with a second bench player subbing in as well, so the sample on that fivesome is still small for the season (spoiler: they will score like crazy and struggle to defend). Nigel Hayes and Alfonzo McKinnie could factor in at some point, too, and both are with the team in Detroit.
Also with the team is Delon Wright, who sprained his toe in the fourth quarter on Tuesday but said after the game he was feeling better. Limited run for him would give Powell an opportunity to get going in a bench fivesome he had some success with earlier in the year, playing between Fred VanVleet and Miles. Lorenzo Brown is not with the team, as he’s working his way back from an ankle sprain with eyes on a Saturday return for Raptors 905.
UPDATE: Norman Powell starts. This is a good thing. He played pretty well Tuesday and this is a nice window to get him some rhythm and comfort. There’s been no word on Delon Wright (other than him working out pre-game), so assume he’s good to go.
UPDATE II: It looks as if Hayes, not McKinnie, is the 13th man here.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Norman Powell, C.J. Miles, Malcolm Miller, (Alfonzo McKinnie)
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Nigel Hayes
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: OG Anunoby
905: Malachi Richardson, Lorenzo Brown
Detroit could be very thin on the wing here, as Stanley Johnson is a game-time call due to a back injury. He missed practice on Tuesday, and beat reporters seemed skeptical he’d be able to go. Luke Kennard, meanwhile, has been battling illness but is expected to play, though it’s unclear whether he, James Ennis, or Langston Galloway would figure to start if Johnson can’t go. Johnson is the best defender of the group by an order of magnitude, while Kennard offers shooting and off-ball distraction, Ennis is the best all-around piece, and Galloway would offer some extra playmaking.
If Johnson plays, the Pistons have a solid starting lineup to trot out. Even though the team has struggled, the projected starters have a plus-4.0 net rating in 218 minutes, and they’ve been very good on the defensive end. If Johnson sits, the most commonly used group they’ll have available sees Ennis in Johnon’s place, a look that has a minus-18.8 net rating in 99 minutes, proving incapable of scoring or defending. This is not surprising – since the Griffin trade, the Pistons allow 101.6 points per-100 possessions with Johnson on the floor and a whopping 117 when he’s off.
UPDATE: Stanley Johnson is out, per Rod Beard. Kennard draws the start and Reggie Hearn is up from the G League for depth.
PG: Ish Smith, Jameer Nelson, Dwight Buycks
SG: Luke Kennard, Langston Galloway, Reggie Hearn
SF: Reggie Bullock, James Ennis
PF: Blake Griffin, Anthony Tolliver, Henry Ellenson
C: Andre Drummond, Eric Moreland
OUT: Reggie Jackson, Jon Leuer, Stanley Johnson
Grand Rapids: Kay Felder
- Raptors 905 have a week at home between games to get Lorenzo Brown back to health, Malachi Richardson up to speed, and put the finishing touches on their gameplan for the stretch run, where they’ll try to catch Nigel Hayes’ Westchester Knicks for the top seed and a bye through the first round. Both Brown and Richardson remain on assignment while Malcolm Miller and Alfonzo McKinnie are with the Raptors. The 905 play Saturday at home.
- Over at The Athletic, I wrote about Norman Powell’s struggle to keep a grip on a role with the Raptors this year and how he’s trying to fight through.
- Also over at The Athletic, I explained some of the details that apply to Fred VanVleet’s restricted free agency this summer, because I kept getting asked.
- Shout out to The Starters, who are celebrating their 2,000th (!) episode today. Just the best dudes.
- Masai Ujiri made his annual bus trip to Detroit with Raptors fans today. It’s a Coors Light promotion of some sort and no, I don’t know how you can get in for next year. Apologies.
“It’s cool to be with the fans, the fans have been a big part of what we’re trying to do in Toronto.” – Masai pic.twitter.com/evH0mmkDtG
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 7, 2018
- Congratulations to Jack Armstrong on his Canadian Screen Award for Best Sports Analyst!
- A cool visual here from friend of the site Ian Levy showing the change in Raptors’ offensive philosophy:
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 7, 2018
- I posted this at the end of last night’s recap, too, but I’m not apologizing for the double-post because it’s really important. Here’s DeMar DeRozan on the response he’s gotten since he began speaking out about mental health:
Here's DeMar DeRozan on the response to him speaking up about mental health pic.twitter.com/f9N9lyPSzY
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) March 7, 2018
The Raptors are 5.5-point favorites despite being on the road with a rest disadvantage. The over-under is at 212.5.