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

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Raptors' fans will get the first crack at these new-look Pistons tonights...

Raptors' fans will get the first crack at these new-look Pistons tonights...

So we've got the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Month getting to go toe-to-toe against a Pistons team that has just made a shocking and huge trade two games into their season.

Thanks Detroit. Now I have to rewrite this whole 3 in The Key...

The long and short of it is though, the Raptors' concern still has to be with the same players that I had already outlined.

I had mentioned to a colleague about how Walter "Fabio" Herrmann seemed to be a good pickup for the Pistons last year. A mobile, unselfish, Argentinian center/power forward who could hit the outside shot would be kinda perfect to backup or play along side Rasheed Wallace.

Flash forward a few months and he has quickly become the guy that the people of the Palace of Auburn Hills have chosen as their personal gladiator.

With NBA TV showing the Piston-Wizards game on Sunday morning, I was able to catch an athletic Pistons bench come alive and completely bury the Wizards. Herrmann, Stuckey and Maxiell all came off the pine to give some extra hustle, allowing the Pistons to score 117 points for the game.

Now, toss in Allen Iverson, and the starting five looks to become much more mobile and willing to take it to teams. People across the league (and our own fanbase) have been divided on this trade thus far, but my concern is just with this immediate match - Iverson's first with his new club. In fact, I've always believed that any team that has Allen Iverson on its team will be running with trouble in their back pocket because the guy just loves to hoist up shots by volume. Yes, he's been top of the league at scoring, and can get to the basket, but turn him into a jump shooter? Well, he shoots just under 43% for his career and 31% from the 3-point line.

Oh yeah, he's moving back to PG after playing a couple years at SG, tossing in a further adjustment.

In the end though, I'm just not sure how much the Raptors' gameplan changes with him going to Detroit, at least in the short-term.

In fact, I still believe that out of all the teams that can always make games against the Raptors look incredibly ugly, Detroit comes out on top. Always stifling on defense, always able to hit the open jumper, and with a team that just doesn't seem to let up from roster spots one through eight. I'm not convinced that having AI in the lineup is going to change the way Detroit plays, especially with the transaction happening so recently.

So as a first true test against an Eastern Conference opponent, what are the keys?

1. Size Matters -

Yeah, it's going to be a theme to use Bosh and O'Neal to their maximum potential, but being that much taller (thanks to wingspan) and bigger than both Herrmann (6'9") and Wallace (6'11") is going to be vitally important in this game.

However, on the opposite end, look for both of our bigs to be pushed to their limit trying to guard both players who can shoot consistently from the outside, especially from 3-point range.

It'll be interesting to see how Sam Mitchell handles having Bosh and/or O'Neal pulled out away from under the basket, leaving the paint exposed for drives by the smarter and more experienced Piston SG and SF players. I'm thinking we'll see a lot more Bargnani as he is often used to guarding shooters from his Euroleague days. And yes, Herrmann isn't starting for the Pistons, but he plays far more minutes than your average backup.

Toss in AI and you need rebounding to come from everywhere especially if our bigs are lured to the perimeter. If you're the Raptors, you especially have to make Detroit pay for Allen Iverson's quick trigger finger.

2. Stopping Detroit's Bench Play -

It'll be easy to say it's their bench against ours, but the fact is, the Piston's bench is just as dangerous as their starters, while ours is still struggling to find a consistent rhythm. The difficulty with playing against Detroit is that even if you manage to rack up the fouls against their starters, the bench players can still come in and dominate the game thanks to their athleticism and propensity for going to the paint. Jose and Roko both have to try and keep Stuckey in front of them as his dribble penetration and finish is what throws defenses completely out of sync. Stopping him has to be the priority to make sure others like Maxiell and Herrmann don't go off big.

In the past, we've seen Mitchell have to play extended minutes for his starters against Detroit because he's had to make up lost ground against Detroit's bench. This year, he might need to do so just to stop the Detroit bench from overpowering our subs.

We may joke about his hair, but Raptors' fans should be very afraid tonight...

We may joke about his hair, but Raptors' fans should be very afraid tonight...

3. Turnovers -

If there's one place that Detroit is going to have trouble with, it'll be turnovers and points off of turnovers. In their debut against Washington, the Pistons committed 17 turnovers.

With Iverson now also in the mix, that's an additional 4 turnovers per game and possibly more as he adjusts to his new squad.

The Raptors on the other hand, have managed to place seventh overall in the league in forcing their opponents into turnovers, which isn't a bad thing especially since it's saved the Raptors against both the Warriors and the Bucks.

What this means is that the Raptors have to continue to punish teams that are loose with the rock and continue to score points off of those turnovers. And while Detroit cleaned up their turnovers against Charlotte, the Raptors are a team that predicates their offense on getting more opportunities to score than their opponents. It's especially important if you add in the Raptors anemic rebounding so far.

Overall though, I can see the Raptors being able to capitalize on an out-of-sorts, newly constructed Detroit team just as much as I can see Allen Iverson going into the game trying to prove that he was worth the trade.

Most importantly for the Raptors is that they need this game to see just how well they match up against a top team in the Eastern Conference. Yes, it's good that the Raptors are able to beat the middle of the pack conference teams, but if they wish to be an elite team this season it's the Detroits and Bostons that they'll have to fell.

Additionally, it's how the Raptors measure up against the elite that will begin to make clear whether Bryan Colangelo needs a real slashing SF/SG, or perhaps some help at the 1 instead.

Vicious D

Additionally, the second week of blogger power rankings is up at Lakers Nation - check it out here.