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Raptors vs. Pistons - Round 2 for Draft Lottery Supremacy (3 in the Key)

The Toronto Raptors have won 3 out of their last 5 games and are coming off of a nice win against the Houston Rockets. Will they be able to keep up their strong play against the Detroit Pistons? The HQ's Sean Tepper weighs in...

If there's one thing that the Toronto Raptors do well, its beat teams with losing records.

The Dinos have posted a 10-8 record against sub-.500 teams, and are looking to build on that mark tonight as they face the Detroit Pistons.

Because the Raps have been offensively challenged without Andrea Bargnani and are ecstatic when they manage to score 90 points without him, they have constantly proven that their defense can completely blanket a variety of different offenses.

Therefore it will be interesting to see how this one plays out tonight, as the Pistons, who are coming off a surprising win against the Atlanta Hawks, have actually played some pretty good ball lately in terms of offensive game planning.

The club has won three straight, and after losing 20 of its first 24 games, have actually gone 10 and 6 since beating not only the aforementioned Hawks, but Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers too.

However, the most exciting part of this game, will be to see whether or not Andrea Bargnani comes back from his 20 game injury. Bargnani put in his first full practice on Thursday since suffering the calf injury in late January, and is expected to reclaim his role in the starting lineup this weekend.

As of this morning, it sounds more likely that Bargs returns Sunday, but in any event, when he does come back, and plays consistently throughout the remainder of the season, it will be interesting to see if he can sustain the dramatic progress he had shown in the 13 games that he was healthy for.

In any event, Bargs or no Bargs, here are three things that Raptors need to do to beat the Pistons at the Palace.

1) Stop Greg Monroe: Whether Bargnani does in fact return from his lengthy injury or not, the Raptors are going to have to find a way to deal with Greg Monroe. The former Georgetown Hoya is coming off of an impressive game against the Los Angeles Lakers, grabbing 14 rebounds in a surprising 86-85 victory. With the Raptors lacking a quality centre and/or a purely defensive big man, it will be interesting to see how Casey decides to deal with Monroe's presence down low, as he is averaging just under 14 rebounds and 17 points over his last five games. Furthermore, I'm curious to see if Casey sends Aaron Gray to cover him one on one, or if he'll elect to double team him on most rebounding opportunities. Regardless, neutralizing Monroe and denying him the opportunity to create second-chance opportunities will go a long way in sealing yet another Raptors victory.

2) Abuse Bargnani: 10 games into Andrea Bargnani's absence, it appeared that the Dinos would struggle to put up any more than 70 points on a given night. However, as Adam pointed out in yesterday's article, DeMar DeRozan has finally taken over as the team's number one scoring option. While DeRozan has been in a hot streak, scoring more than 20 points in four of his last five games, the Raptors would be doing themselves a favour to immediately get Bargs back into action. The truth of the situation is that with Bargnani, the Raptors have proven to be a low-seeded playoff team and without him they are a .400 team. At the time I am posting this article, Bargnani's status is still very much up in the air, but if the seven foot Italian centre can return to the court, he could provide the Raptors with a big offensive boost....especially against the league's 16th ranked defence.

3) Keep Playing Defense: It seems like I write this point every time that I do a game preview, but the fact of the matter is that the Raptors are one of the better defensive teams in the league. Raptors fans knew that they were going to see a defensive improvement after the team announced Casey as their head coach, but I don't think that many of them expected to see this sort of improvement this quickly into his tenure. As of tip-off, the Raptors are ranked 11th in points allowed with just under 94 per game. In Detroit, they will face the league's 28th ranked offense, and therefore even if we don't see Andrea, and the offence sputters, the D should be able to hold the fort for a win.

(Although if you're riding the tank, the Pistons, with one more win than the Raptors, would be a good team to lose to.)