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3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. Pistons

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After suffering a tough loss to the Atlanta Hawks the Raptors face the Detroit Pistons in their last home game for the next ten days.

The Pistons are a team in turmoil and the Raps badly need a win before hitting the road.

Can fans expect a Raptors win?

It's never easy being a fan of a team in full rebuilding mode - despite the supposed long term gain the short term pain is not fun.

Watching your team lose 2/3rds of its games makes it a challenge to tune in night in and night out. It also changes the reason you watch the game. Rather than looking at the score board you end up looking for smaller "victories". 

The perfect example? The Raptors zone defense in the second half of the Hawks game. Did the Raptors lose that game? Sure, but showing something on the defensive end is something to get excited about....right?

Of course things could definitely be worse. You could be a fan of the Nets, Nuggets or Pistons right now. Despite the long road ahead at least the Raptors team is not one shrouded in turmoil and uncertainty.

The possible trading of Carmelo Anthony has become almost as much of a circus as "The Decision". Every day there are new reports about what players are going where, how many draft picks are involved and whether the Knicks are going to swoop in and steal Anthony away from their ugly sister.

Make no mistake about it, this fiasco must be having an effect on the players in all of the locker rooms of those teams supposedly involved, including the Raptors' opponent tonight - the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons look like a team in disarray. Earlier this week Coach John Kuester benched Richard Hamilton. It was the first time in 822 games where Hamilton was dressed and did not enter a game. According to the article the reaction was no well received inside the Pistons locker room either.

As difficult as it has been at time to watch the Raptors for once it seems like all is right inside the locker room. There are no more questions about Chris Bosh's impending free-agency, no-body giving ridiculous one word answers in post-game interviews, no-one destroying fans cell phones and everyone seems to be (from the outside) getting along quite nicely.

Feels like a long time since there has been no controversy or off the court distraction in the Raptors locker room. I won't lie - it's been nice.

When a team looses more than it wins you almost expect some form of controversy but right now that is simply not the case.

Back to the Raptors opponent tonight, the Detroit Pistons. We reached out to Brian at the SB Nation Pistons blog Detroit Bad Boys for this weeks installment of Blogging With the Enemy.

RHQ: Give us your take on all of the Carmelo rumours and the possibility of Rip Hamilton being dealt. If the rumours are true would this be a step in the right direction for the Pistons?

I've gone from skepticism to elation back to skepticism in a matter of 4-5 days. Basically, I went from not believing the reports (Carmelo will only sign an extension with the Knicks) to believing them (Wow, the deal is in the red zone, at the 10-yard line!) to not believing them again (Carmelo will only sign an extension with the Knicks). If the deal is to go through, though, it would be a HUGE step in the right direction for the Pistons. Not only would Dumars be correcting the wrong he created by extending Rip in the first place, it gives the Pistons a ton of flexibility toward actually rebuilding as opposed to being stuck in the middle.

RHQ:  What's the latest on the ownership issue and how much of an effect do you think ownership has had on the on court product as of late, if any?

Currently, billionaire Tom Gores--Michigan State alumnus and founder of the LA-based Platinum Equity investment firm--has a 30-day window to buy the team. That window reportedly opened up about six days ago, so a sale should be coming soon, barring any hiccup similar to what happened to Mike Ilitch in November when he had an exclusive 30-day window to buy the team. All signs point to Gores being the next Pistons owner.

It's hard to say exactly what effect ownership has had on the on-court product as of late, but I can't imagine it has had a major impact. After Bill Davidson's death in 2009, his widow Karen Davidson inherited ownership and the Pistons signed Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, who I think they would've pursued even if BD was still alive. The team went up for sale in the middle of the 2009-2010 season and they didn't make any splashes in free agency the next offseason (unless you count Tracy McGrady), but they didn't have the money to do so anyway. I think the biggest effect it has had is with trades and the money Dumars is allowed to take back in any given deal. I guess it's up to the fans to determine whether or not it's a coincidence that a day or two after Tom Gores was given an exclusive 30-day window to buy the team a serious trade rumor involving Rip surfaced.

RHQ: What are the keys to a Pistons victory against the Raptors?

The Raptors have had the Pistons number the past two years (5-1, held Detroit to their lowest point total in franchise history last season and the Pistons colossal collapse in December). But, in my totally biased opinion, I think the Pistons are a better team despite the season records and track record indicating otherwise.  In this, the third game of the season between these two teams, I'd say the Pistons need to worry most about playing a complete game. The Pistons have lost too many games to count this season--including Wednesday night--by letting up in a single quarter, namely the third (worst point margin in the third in the NBA). It also wouldn't hurt the Pistons chances if Bayless has food poisoning again.

Here are tonight's three keys.

1. Keep Up the Defense: As mentioned above the Raps played respectable defense at times during the Atlanta game and here's hoping this is the start to something better. After this final home game the Raps face some heavy hitters in the league (New Orleans, Miami, Orlando) and if they don't play respectable defense they are going to be looking a quite a losing streak. Sure defense wins championships but defense is generally required to win regular season games as well. Last time the Raps played the Pistons there was no defense to be found.

2. Get Into the Paint: The Pistons, without Ben Wallace, are very soft on the inside and the Raptors need to exploit that. In their match-up against the Grizzlies the Pistons started Greg Monroe and Chris Wilcox up front - not exactly intimidating. Look for players like Bargnani and Kleiza to get into the post often to exploit this advantage. Also, players like DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems cannot be afraid to attack the rim time and time again.

3. Create Mismatches: Also noteworthy from the last Pistons game against the Grizzlies the Pistons started Tracy McGrady at the point. From Detroit Bad Boys in their preview from that game:

Tracy McGrady will start at the point, Rodney Stuckey will move to shooting guard, Tayshaun Prince will stay put, Greg Monroe will fill in at center for Wallace and... (drum roll) Chris Wilcox will start over Charlie Villanuevaat power forward.  Hey, don't laugh-- according to John Hollinger, Wilcox is our best player.  The proof is in the PER!

My initial reaction is "Good God, McGrady will get his shot whenever he wants over Calderon" and then I realized if the Raps can have the Pistons settle for McGrady jump shots that wouldn't be such a bad thing given it's 2011 and not 2006.

Nonetheless it appears the Pistons are looking to create mismatches and the Raps will need to counter and take advantage of their own. Who would have thought the Pistons - Raps game would be one filled with strategy and resemble a chess match?

Ok, that might be a stretch.....