The Raptors had a rare loss at home on Friday, going down in 119-122 in an overtime thriller against the Bucks. DeMar DeRozan logged 41 minutes on his way to 33 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but couldn’t quite get his side over the line. Despite the loss, Toronto remain on top of the Eastern Conference standings. They will need to keep winning in order to stay there as they are just half a game ahead of the Celtics.
The Pistons are a little further down the pecking order, fighting hard to sneak into a playoff position. Currently, they sit in ninth with a record of 28-31, which hasn’t been helped by back-to-back defeats. The most recent of these was a disappointing 98-114 effort against Charlotte on Sunday. Andre Drummond had 14 points and 14 rebounds while Blake Griffin added 20 points, but they were soundly beaten by the Hornets.
Three keys to the game
Are Detroit better when they’re tired? - Presumably not, but their performance in the second leg of back-to-backs this season has been very good. They’re 5-4 in these games, but more impressive is the nature of the wins. Among them are close victories against Houston and Golden State, the best two teams in the league.
Will Toronto drop two in a row at home? - The Raptors have been the best home side in the NBA season this season. Their loss on Friday was just their fifth for the season in Canada, and they have won 24. This gives them a 0.828 record at home, which over the course of an 82 game season would net you 68 wins.
The streaky Pistons - Detroit have shown an incredible propensity to go on extended winning or losing streaks this season. They won five in a row to kick off November before losing seven in a row to start December. They won six of eight to follow that, but soon after went on another losing streak, this time eight games. They have notched up two losses on the trot at the moment and are 1-5 in their past six. They will be hoping this isn’t the start of another disastrous losing streak.
Matchup to watch
Andre Drummond vs Jonas Valanciunas - Two old-school, physical centers will match up in this game. Drummond is as dominant a presence as there is amongst bigs in the game at the moment, having improved his offensive game and somehow developed his rebounding even further. He is averaging 15.1 points, a league-leading 15.7 rebounds, a career-high 3.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks this season.
Valanciunas is a far inferior player, but is capable offensively when he decides to turn it on. For the season, he is average 12.0 points and 8.4 rebounds, but in recent weeks has started regularly stepping out to the perimeter and connecting on 3-point attempts. For the season, he is shooting 47.6% from downtown, and is going at over 60% on almost 1.5 long range attempts a game over his past nine outings.
Toronto Raptors predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka | C - Jonas Valanciunas
Detroit Pistons predicted starting lineup
PG - Ish Smith | SG - Reggie Bullock | SF - Stanley Johnson | PF - Blake Griffin | C - Andre Drummond
When these sides met earlier in the season, Drummond was dominant. He went 12-for-15 from the field on the way to 25 points, grabbed seven offensive boards on the way to 17 rebounds, and also contributed a couple of assists and four steals. His opponent, Valanciunas, was relatively good himself. He managed to grab 17 points and 16 rebounds in what was a terrific battle between two big men.
Detroit have been given a 10.5 point head start, and though they aren’t playing well and Toronto are excellent at home, the Pistons should be able to cover this line. They’ll lose the game, but with Drummond showing good recent form against the Raptors, they’ll be able to make a game of it, and lose by less than 11 points.
Toronto will be confident they can take this one out, and they should be able to do so. They have a massive advantage in the backcourt, and the experience of DeRozan and Lowry will be too much to handle for Smith and the young Bullock.
Drummond and Valanciunas will have major roles in the game, and though Valanciunas was good last time the sides met, this is one area in which Detroit have a major advantage. Expect Drummond to grab 20-plus rebounds and be a handful for the Raptors.
In the end, though, Toronto will be too good, running out relatively comfortable winners with a 107-101 victory.
The game will be broadcast locally on SportsNet One and FS Detroit. Tip-off is at 7:30pm ET.