Technically, the Detroit Pistons have been better recently than the Toronto Raptors. The Pistons are an even 5-5 over their last 10 games, whereas the Raptors have just managed four wins during that stretch. Despite the edge, the Raptors still look far better heading into Sunday’s clash, going against a Pistons squad that is doing about as well (or as badly) as it was expected to do.
The Pistons are a team with a ton of okay guys but few stand-outs. Their 25-29 record is good enough for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as of now, but not much more. Similarly, the team does many things okay, but few things — including scoring — well. The only way they were ever going to elevate beyond a close to .500 record would have been if Reggie Jackson hit star status, and he didn’t.
Toronto, on the other hand, is actually under-performing. This is a 32-22 team that should be so much better, but a mix of injuries, poor late-game execution and consistently bad defence has held them back. Though the team may still be second best in the East in the minds of many, they have to start showing it. A win against an average team like the Pistons wouldn’t hurt.
Here are three keys for Sunday night’s clash.
Take a chance on Norm
Norman Powell’s minutes seem random at times. Coach Dwane Casey will either show no faith in his sophomore, or go all in on the UCLA product. Sometimes it’s a weird mix of both. Last time out against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Powell played key minutes in the fourth quarter coming cold off the bench, and he sucked.
When DeMar DeRozan sat with an ankle injury, Powell became a starter. In starters minutes, he provided plenty of production. But, when DeRozan is in, he hardly gets a chance to show what he can do. That sort of inconsistency slows his development, and makes the team worse off.
Used properly, Powell can be a weapon, mixing athleticism, adequate shooting and surprisingly good handles. Casey needs to build up his confidence by proving that he believes in his backup shooting guard. This doesn’t necessarily mean he needs to play more than the 17.3 points per game he is averaging, but his minutes need to be more consistent and better defined. There’s no time like the present to start being a better coach, so maybe - just maybe - Casey will come through with a new Norm strategy against the Pistons.
Devin Booker: 21pts 3ast 3reb 52%TS.— Abdi (@TDotA1G) February 10, 2017
D'Angelo Russell: 14pts 5ast 4reb 50%TS.
Norman Powell as a starter: 15pts 2ast 4reb 57%TS.
Limit fun in the paint
The Pistons make only 34 per cent of their three-pointers, 27th best in the league. Instead of relying on perimeter bombs, they take it inside, using bruisers like Andre Drummond and speedsters like Jackson to break through the defence. The Raptors need to load the paint, knowing that swinging the ball outside to shooters with space won’t do much good for the Pistons.
The Raptors typically struggle to defend the paint, partly because the team lacks any single above-average big defender. Lucas Nogueira is okay, sending back 1.8 shots per game, but he is still too slender to hold his ground against the big-boned like Drummond. Jonas Valanciunas isn’t quite there with his positioning, and his foot speed can be a challenge.
The Pistons aren’t a particularly dynamic scoring team, but if they are going to do damage it will be in the paint. The Raptors need to stand strong, and if all else fails, foul. The Pistons are one of the league’s worst free-throw shooting teams, led by Drummond, the league’s preeminent ugly shooter.
Boban Marjanovic exists
There’s no real point to be made here, he just seems like a nice dude who happens to be 7’3” with hands the size of $30 turkeys. After a nice run as a Spur, he has faded away in a Pistons uniform, averaging just 6.8 minutes and 3.2 rebounds per game. But, who has the highest player efficiency rating of any Piston? You guessed it. And it’s not even close. 26.1 is pretty darn high.
I’m not saying Marjanovic could be a surprise hero that puts his team on his back and leads them to victory, but stranger things have happened. Believe in the Serbian Freak.
Where to Watch: TSN, 6pm