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The Raptors Go to Detroit: Preview, Start Time, and more

The pre-season is almost over!

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA pre-season drags on tonight, as the Toronto Raptors visit the Palace at Auburn Hills, to take on a Pistons team that has become a pre-season critical darling.

I’m a Stan Van Gundy fan too, but I’ve seen prognostications that this Detroit team could win 50 games and/or finish with the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. I realize the pre-season is long, but if there was ever something that required a ‘settle down’, it’s this.

The Pistons are going to be a well-coached, perfectly competent basketball team that will likely make the playoffs in a murky Eastern Conference. But does nobody remember the darling Bucks from a year ago? Or how about the Blazers, predicted to finish dead last by just about anyone and everyone?

The point is, you don’t know anything yet, and I don’t either. So while a team that features a force of nature (Andre Drummond) surrounded by strong role players (Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris), talented youngsters (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson) and friggin’ Boban Marjanovic (and also his hands) looks like it should be a pseudo-contender, the reality is that Jackson is already out for at least a month and maybe longer, Drummond probably still can’t shoot free throws, Morris has a lingering knee injury, Harris has been polarizing everywhere he’s played and the youngsters are still very, very young. Boban is probably cool, but that’s a lot of question marks, you know?

Even if this Detroit team is firing on all cylinders by the All-Star break, they could start the season behind the eight ball. There are a lot of ‘improved’ teams in the middle-tier of the East this season — with the Wizards, Knicks, Bucks and Bulls trying to get back in, would it really be such a shock if a growing Pistons squad took a minor step backwards?

Here are three things to watch for in tonight’s game, as veterans once again try not to get hurt and rookies try their best to impress. It’s Where Amazing Indifference Happens.

Musical Chairs

The Raptors have had a different leading scorer in each pre-season contest so far. In order: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet have taken turns, as they’ve played to a 3-2 record. VanVleet in particular has looked great, dropping 31 points with 5 assists in Toronto’s last game, though that was versus Euroleague team San Lorenzo del Almagro. It’s funny how much better guys play when there’s actually something to play for. VanVleet is looking like the heavy favourite for the Raptors last roster spot, particularly with Delon Wright’s injury.

That VanVleet performance came in a game where DeRozan, Lowry, Valanciunas, Patterson, Carroll and Cory Joseph all sat; it’s likely Coach Dwane Casey will use tonight’s game with Detroit as more of a regular season tune-up. Will we maybe see the first vestiges of the regular season rotation? And more importantly, which new person will lead the team in scoring tonight? My money is on CoJo.

He Doesn’t Know It’s an Exhibition! He Thinks It’s a Damn Fight!

That is because an SVG coached team, particularly one littered with rookies and young veterans, is unlikely to take this game lightly. Detroit is trying to build its reputation in the East, so that knuckleheads like me will stop saying they’re too young or too flawed to make the jump from playoff-hopeful to Eastern Conference contender. The Pistons certainly can’t afford to suffer any more injuries, but with players like Stanley Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on the floor, we’re going to see some defense that might be almost up to regular season-speed. It’ll be interesting to see how the Raptors offense stacks up.

I Don’t Have a Third Thing

The regular season starts in one week. Hoo-rah!

Where to Watch: Uh, from all the info I can find, there is no local TV/Radio broadcast! The game is at 7:30pm EST.