3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Pistons

It’s been a long time since the Toronto Raptors would have been of interest to most casual NBA fans in the United States. Now wearing the Atlantic Division crown it was inevitable that this team would make a re-appearance on the big stage and now is the time with tonight’s match-up against the Detroit Pistons.

In some ways this match-up could not have come at a worse time for the Raps as Detroit is riding a 10-game winning streak and is running on all cylinders. Unlike years past, Detroit’s success is not simply the result of their starting five. The Pistons now feature a very solid bench as recently discussed on ESPN.

This Pistons team can now rely on their bench to maintain a high level of play with players like Jason Maxiell, Arron Afflalo, Rodney Stuckey, and Jarvis Hayes all becoming heavy contributors - be it with scoring, defence or rebounding. In fact they are playing so well right now that ESPN.com’s Tim Legler would take this Pistons squad over the Celtics in a 7 game series.

And he’s not the only one.

As we’ve been doing this year, RaptorsHQ reached out to one of the league’s best blogs and biggest Pistons’ backers, the folks at Need4Sheed.com, for some insight into their favourite team and tonight’s game. Natalie Sitto from Need4Sheed.com gives us her thoughts:

1) RaptorsHQ: It seems that everyone was sleeping on the Pistons this year until their recent streak of wins and victory over the Celtics. In your opinion, where does this Pistons team rank in terms of "ability to win it all" considering Detroit teams from the past few seasons? Aka - is this the best version of the team yet under Joe Dumars?

Need4Sheed: Any Pistons fan would tell you that Detroit has everything it takes to go all the way. Personally I go into each season expecting a championship, but with a bench this strong this season, the sky is the limit. I would even go as far as saying this team is better than the 2004 Championship team.

2) RaptorsHQ: With a 25 and seven record and 10 straight wins, the Pistons seem to be firing on all cylinders right now. Do you foresee any changes being made to the team prior to the playoffs? Is there still a "missing piece" or are the Chris Webber rumours just that - rumours?

Need4Sheed: Right now I don't really see anything significant happening besides maybe trading Flip Murray and possibly Brezec and Herrmann before the deadline.
Though, what we have seen from the ex Bobcats has been a pleasant surprise.

As for Chris Webber, at this point the way things are going it would take a lot for Dumars to bring him back.

3) RaptorsHQ: The Pistons have the big rematch with the C's on Saturday but first up, the Raptors, who have beaten teams like San Antonio and lost to ones like Seattle. Give us your keys for the Pistons to get the victory and how you see the clubs matching up.

Need4Sheed: The first thing the Pistons have to do is NOT look past Toronto in anticipation of Saturdays' game against the Celtics. Bosh always has nice games against the Pistons and I am sure Delfino would love to light up his old teammates. If the Pistons play lockdown defense like they have been and contain Mr. Bosh as well as well as Bargnani, Detroit has a good chance of getting this one done in Toronto, especially the way their backcourt has been playing.

I would say good luck, but I'm too much of a homer for that...

Thanks to Natalie for that, and we'll be touching base with her again throughout the season.

It’s true that the Pistons are looking really good right now and the last time the Raps faced a team on a wining streak they didn’t put up much resistance. However I don’t expect the Raptors to simply roll over, in particular after the great effort against New Orleans and a few days off. To help build on the last W, they will have to address these three keys.

1. Don’t let the big lights scare ya. Whatever the Raps do, they cannot start thinking about being on the "big stage." They need to play exactly like they did in NO, and can not try to do too much or let the additional pressure to perform throw them off. If the team plays they way they can then ESPN and others will be forced to give them more airtime. If they get outside what they do best it could be a longer period of time before the Raps see the primetime.

2. Attack, Attack, Attack. The Raps must get to the hoop in this game which will not be easy. The Pistons match-up well against Toronto but the Dinos can’t be hesitant. The Bosh/Wallace match-up is perhaps most key. Fans will remember how effective Wallace has been in the past guarding CB4 so his team-mates need to help him out. That being said, can Bosh set the tone again? He needs to if the Raps hope to end the Pistons run.

3. Bench Play. A battle of two solid benches. Who wins out here will likely be the victor. We all know Delfino will be geared up and ready to play but it will be the other lesser match-ups that I’ll be watching. Maxiell vs. Hump and Dixon vs. Stuckey to name a couple.

Rodney Stuckey is just one of the members of the Pistons new and improved bench.

Rodney Stuckey is just one of the members of the Pistons new and improved bench.

That being said, even though he’s been cleared to play, it sounds from his interview last night like TJ Ford’s return date is still unsure so Dixon may have this job for a while.

This is obviously a big match-up for the Raps. TV stuff aside, the Raptors have two big games over the next stretch before a slightly easier schedule. Both games (tonight against Detroit and then the following match versus the Cavs) will be good litmus tests for this team considering they’ll be playing some of the supposed "bests" of their own conference. Incredibly we’re already nearing the halfway point of the season and it would be great for this Raptor team to start putting some distance between themselves and the others.

HOWLAND

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