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Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: The Game of the Season Awaits

Things are getting overly dramatic in Toronto as disappointing losses mount. No defeat would be as damaging as one against the Pistons!

Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Without hesitation nor a hint of hyperbole, Saturday’s game in Detroit is not only the most important game of the season, it may be one of the most important in franchise history!

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past two months (Belated Merry Christmas and Happy Halloween), the Pistons haven’t won a single game since beating the Chicago Bulls on October 28th. On Tuesday, Detroit set a new single-season record with its 27th consecutive loss — surpassing the 26 straight losses achieved by the 2013-14 Sixers and 2010-11 Cavaliers.

All eyes, though, are on the 2015 Sixers who lost an NBA record 28 consecutive games, spanning two seasons.

Assuming Boston takes care of business on Thursday, the Pistons will head home for a date with the Raptors — and 28 straight losses in tow. A victory by Detroit would not only prevent history from being made but would surely be the lowest point of the Masai Ujiri era, and possibly the worst loss in franchise history.

This would be the kind of loss that would revive the “Craptors” monicker. A loss that would make Toronto the laughingstock of the league. A loss that would surely cause (proverbial) heads to roll. A loss that would cause franchise-altering moves to be made.

Before the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham was viewed as a generational talent who could change the course of a franchise. I don’t think anyone would have imagined that franchise could be the Raptors!

December 27 @ Washington Wizards

This game is the ultimate test of rest vs. rust.

Toronto will be playing its first game since the Christmas break while Washington will be playing less than 24 hours after hosting Orlando. Will the Raptors feast on their weary foes or will the Wizards take advantage of a slumping team that last played before all the holiday parties?

Toronto kicks off a 3-game road trip (in 4 nights, no less) to wrap up a rather forgettable 2023.

This game is also a test of which team will suck less. Toronto has only won 3 of its 12 road games so far, while Washington has only won 2 of its 10 home games. They can’t both lose this game (can they?).

Fun fact that may only interest me

If there’s one stat that should dictate the outcome of this game, it’s how much Kyle Kuzma scores.

Washington’s record when Kyle Kuzma scores 30 or more: 4-1*

Washington’s record when Kyle Kuzma scores 29 or less: 1-22

*The only loss was against the Raptors

Prediction

When these teams first met this season, the Raptors saved themselves from embarrassment, overcoming a 23-point deficit to squeak out a win at home.

Washington would fall to 2-8 after that collapse and go on to lose 12 of its next 13 games. Almost $70 million of next year’s cap is locked into Jordan Poole, Kyle Kuzma, and Deni Avdija. Not exactly a “Big 3.”

Poole has been a lightning rod for criticism and he’s done nothing but feed everyone content over and over and over again.

Part of Toronto’s victory over Washington earlier this season can be attributed to the Raptors’ ability to win in transition. The Wizards have the #1 transition in the league but the Raptors outscored them 22-18. However, the comeback was really fueled by Toronto’s ability to score in the paint. The Raptors scored more points in the paint (22) in the 4th quarter than the Wizards scored in total (16). Toronto uses that formula again and wins in Washington, 122-116.

December 29 @ Boston Celtics

This is probably the first time in franchise history (NBA history?) where a game against the team with the best record in the NBA.......is the trap game!

Nobody will bat an eye if the Raptors lose this game to the Celtics. Boston owns the best record in the league (23-6), has beaten Toronto twice already this season, and has won the last 6 meetings. But you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t think at least one Raptor had their eye on the next game in Detroit (especially if Boston does their part and defeats Detroit the night before).

As for the Celtics-Raptors “rivalry”, it’s not enough that Jayson Tatum is better than Pascal Siakam or that Jaylen Brown is more likely to make the All-Star team than Scottie Barnes, Derrick White is now occupying rent-free space in Raptors fans’ minds.

Once Marcus Smart was traded last Summer, the runway for White to break out was cleared. He’s put together career-highs across the board — 16.6 points, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.3 blocks — while knocking on the door of elite company (49.5/42.4/87.7 shooting). In fact, it’s White, not Tatum, who leads the team in VORP and Win Shares!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Boston has set a franchise record by winning its first 14 home games of the season. The previous record was 12 straight home wins, achieved in 1984-85 and 2007-08. In both of those seasons, the Celtics made it to the NBA Finals — winning it all in 2008.

Prediction

For the second game in a row, the Raptors will have the rest advantage while their opponent played the night before. However, playing the Celtics is vastly different from playing the Wizards.

When these teams last faced each other, it was Toronto’s inaugural game of the In-Season Tournament. The Raptors performed as well as you could have hoped. Tatum had a poor shooting night (1-for-11 from three), Boston shot poorly overall (45.7%), and the Raptors matched the Celtics shot-for-shot down the stretch, despite not having OG Anunoby.

Yet, Toronto still lost.

Boston is 0-3 in overtime games, 0-2 in road IST games....and 23-1 in all other games. Celtics handle the Raptors, 113-102.

December 30 @ Detroit Pistons

With Toronto’s “undercard” games out of the way, we finally arrive at the main event!

Even if Detroit wins against Boston on Thursday (not likely), this game still figures to matter greatly in how the Raptors are evaluated. It hasn’t been said yet, but Toronto should convincingly win this game. Period. But a loss to the Pistons — whether it’s to break the losing streak or simply a loss to a sub.-100 team — would have disastrous ramifications for the team and its rabid fanbase.

To cheer up this rather morbid post, here are some Pistons-related videos.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Here’s a list of teams that have gotten a victory more recently than October 28th — the Pistons’ last win:

  • Texas Rangers - won the World Series on November 1st
  • BC Lions - won its CFL West Division Semi-Final game against Calgary on November 4th but did not win in the West Finals, ending its season on November 11th
  • Carolina Panthers - their two wins have come on October 29th and December 17th
  • Memphis Grizzlies, with Ja Morant - returned from his 25-game suspension on December 19th. In fact, the Grizzlies have won more games with Ja (3 out of 3 last week) than Detroit has accumulated all season

Prediction

As if the magnitude of this game wasn’t enough, December 30th also marks the unofficial deadline to sign Pascal Siakam to an extension. He’s currently eligible for a contract extension of 4 years / $192 million. If an extension is not agreed/signed, then Siakam’s (sort of) betting on himself to maintain (or improve) his value for a bigger payday in July with the team of his choice. If he does sign by the 30th, he won’t be trade-eligible at the deadline but will be when free agency kicks off in July. His signing would also work in Toronto’s favour if they still choose to trade him because he’d no longer be on an expiring contract (and worth a lot less in trade value).

Sorry, that was a long-winded way of saying Siakam’s contract situation is another factor that could distract the players.

But let’s be honest. Despite losing seven of its last nine games, the Raptors are still a much better team than the Pistons and should be able to win this game. When they played each other on November 19th at Scotiabank Arena, the Raptors put up a season-high 142 points, won by a season-best 29 points, and accumulated a franchise-record 44 assists. Siakam, Dennis Schroder, and Jakob Poeltl weren’t needed in the 4th quarter.

Go ahead and open the floodgates if Detroit wins, but this is a prideful Raptors team that has not given up on its season. Don’t forget that for 6(!) straight seasons, the winner of the first matchup has gone on to sweep the season series! Toronto beats Detroit, 120-113.

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Last Week: 3-1

Season Record: 18-11

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