So let me get this straight.
That same Magic team, but with Carter, then loses to a Pistons team missing Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.
Now the Raptors take on that Pistons team tonight.
Any guesses as to the outcome?
I have no idea, mostly because through three games, I'm not really sure what to expect yet from this Raptor club...outside of maybe a dominant offensive performance from Chris Bosh and some horrific perimeter defence and rebounding. Against Cleveland we saw some great offense, and the ability to take an opponents' punches, and counter.
None of that was present against Memphis, and against Orlando, while the offense was there in spurts, the team's perimeter defense fell to a new low.
The interesting thing is that the 2 and 2 Pistons are on a bit of a roller coaster ride themselves.
They soundly beat Memphis to open the season, then lose to Oklahoma City, and get clocked by Milwaukee, not exactly two Western Conference Title favourites. Then of course we have the Orlando win on the docket, so this sounds like a team still trying to figure things out as well.
What a perfect match then for the Raptors in game four of the season?
Let's hit the three keys:
Uh oh, here we go again this season. Last year rebounding showed up quite a bit in our "3 keys" and I'm not expecting it to be much different this year, especially until Reggie Evans returns. Currently Toronto is sitting in the bottom third of the league in both rebounding rate (percentage of missed shots a team rebounds) and total boards, and it's been quite evident in their past two games, that there needs to be major improvement in this area if the team expects to compete with the best in the league.
Incidentally, while the Pistons edged the Magic on the glass last night, Detroit is actually even worse statistically in terms of glass-cleaning than Toronto, and therefore the Raptors have to take advantage of this area. Charlie Villanueva has always hurt his former team in the paint, and it will be up to Chris Bosh to cotain him. And Ben Wallace right now looks to have spent the off-season training with the magic Phoenix Suns' doctors as he's playing like he did in the Pistons' glory days earlier in the decade. Wallace did a great job of keeping Dwight Howard in check last night and getting him into foul trouble, and therefore it will be up to Andrea to expose "the fro" on the perimeter to keep him from playing to his strengths.
On a night when the Raptors will be honouring Charles Oakley, let's hope they don't need him to sub-in off the bench in this one.
2) Guard play.
No excuses here. Toronto has had two days off, while the Pistons are playing the second night of a back-to-back; there shouldn't be any dragging on the perimeter from the Dinos' defenders.
In particular, Calderon and Jack need to keep the Pistons' guards in check. Rodney Stuckey dropped 20 points on the Magic last night, and his back-up Will Bynum was no slouch either, equalling Stuckey's 20. Toss in 23 from Ben Gordon and it's safe to assume that Calderon and Jack will have their hands full chasing these three around all night. Gordon will be looking to come off curls and get open looks, while both Bynum and Stuckey will use their strength and athleticism to bully their way to the rim. Either way, the Raps can't afford to let another back-court explosion do them in early, which was much of the situation courtesy of JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson on Sunday against Orlando.
Without Prince and Hamilton, the Pistons will be relying heavily on the aforementioned three to do their offensive damage so if Calderon, Jack, DeRozan et al. can at least play them to a draw, that should tip things in the Raptors' favour.
3) 3-point Scoring.
Against Orlando, Detroit took only six 3's, and missed all of them. On the season, the Pistons are making only five a game, and shooting one of the league's worst percentages from long-range. Toronto on the other hand, after a terrible pre-season from beyond the arc, is fairing fairly well in this capacity and this could be the tipping point in this match.
That's not to say the Dinos should allow the Pistons to bomb away at will from downtown - we all know how that worked on Sunday. However based on the current personnel on the team, outside of Ben Gordon, and to a lesser extent CV Smooth, we're not talking about a team of Ray Allens here, especially with injuries to Prince and Hamilton. Therefore I'd much prefer that if the Raptors are getting beat on D, it's on late close-outs beyond the arc, not on rotations allowing Detroit to get to the rim.
And hey, would it be that bad of an idea to throw in a little zone then against Detroit?
For me, the bottom line is that this team needs a win here. Detroit is a team they'll be fighting with for a playoff spot so this one means a lot more than last week's match against the Grizz I'd argue. And with the Raptors about to head out on a mini West-Coast swing, this might be the easiest match in a bit.