Gameday: Raptors @ Pistons, March 17

With 13 games remaining in an 82 game schedule it can occasionally be tough for team’s to find motivation on any given night.  The season is a long slog and when a team like the Raptors are largely locked into their seeding, lazy nights happen.  This isn’t an excuse, just a truth.

That shouldn’t be the case today for either the Raptors or the Pistons.  While the Raptors are functionally locked into being the second seed in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons still have much to decide for their final spot in the standings.  Detroit could finish anywhere from 6-8 as they are closely clumped with Brooklyn and Miami, and it is still mathematically possibly that they miss the playoffs entirely (highly unlikely, but math says it’s true).

For the Raptors the motivation should be clear.  Not only have the Pistons won both games between the two teams to date this season (most recently a 112-107 Pistons overtime victory two weeks ago, without Kawhi), but Detroit and Toronto could easily see one another in the first round of the playoffs.

I’ll start there for a moment.  I have no interest in seeing Detroit in the playoffs, and it has nothing to do with their current record against the Raptors.  Today is the third game of the year where the prevailing storyline is about Dwane Casey and his firing by Toronto last summer, and I’m already tired of it.  I have no interest in dealing with that for an entire playoff series, even one that I anticipate would be over in 4-5 games.

Toronto is likely motivated to come out and show themselves what they can do against a potential playoff opponent as they head to Detroit.  The Pistons meanwhile are playing their 5th game in 8 nights and will be on the first half of a back-to-back (play Cleveland on Monday).  Casey has talked about trying to find rest for his rotation during this final stretch, but indicated that it would be through shorter minutes as able.

The Raptors are also playing the first night of a back-to-back, as they return to Toronto to play the New York Knicks on Monday.  As it customary on the season it is expected that Kawhi Leonard will take one of those nights off for load management, but there has been no indication as to which game he will miss (at least as of writing/posting this).

Serge Ibaka will serve the second game of his 3 game suspension, but the Raptors otherwise have a series of questionable players.  Kyle Lowry could return after a one game absence due to an ankle injury, while Danny Green is questionable due to his own ankle.

The good news is that Fred VanVleet is officially questionable as well, as he nears return from a lengthy absence after thumb surgery.  Whether he returns today or not, it is great news to know that Fred is nearing a return as the Raptors have missed him off the bench.

So what can we expect from the Pistons?  As strange as it feels to say, the Pistons have one of the most dangerous high usage lineups in basketball this season.

Who would have ever guessed this would be the case?  That’s a bizarre group but Casey and Company have found something that works.  And this lineup has yet to play against the Raptors through their previous two games.

Let’s start with Reggie Jackson, who has been a solid contributor this season (although a little up-and-down).  Jackson is averaging 15.3 points per game, 4.3 assists, and 2.6 rebounds.  While he is only shooting 42.2 percent overall from the field, Reggie is having the best 3 point shooting season of his career both in volume of attempts (5.7/game) and accuracy (37.1 percent).

Above all though, the Pistons go where Blake Griffin takes them.  After plenty of minor to major injuries, Griffin has appeared in 66 of the Pistons 68 games and in many ways is having the best scoring year of his career.  Not only is he averaging a career high 24.7 points, he is also leading the Pistons in assists at 5.4 and is shooting 36.1 percent from long distance on a career high 6.8 attempts a game (Note: Griffin shot 40 percent from 3 in 2014-15 but he averaged just 0.4 attempts per game).  He turned 30 years old yesterday and is showing more versatility than ever.

Prediction: Raptors 121, Pistons 106

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