Pistons face tough task vs. Raptors’ All-Star backcourt
Toronto — The Pistons open the regular season tonight against the Toronto Raptors but without starting point guard Reggie Jackson, they’ll have a tougher time matching up.
Ish Smith, who steps into the starting role, and newly acquired Beno Udrih will have their hands full with the Raptors’ backcourt combination of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
As the Pistons kick off the season and look to get back to the playoffs, here are five things to watch in the opener at Air Canada Centre.
Talking Ish: Smith got into a groove in the last four games of the preseason, finding good chemistry with the rest of the starting lineup. That will be critical in getting offensive continuity and putting the other starters in positions where they can shine. Although Smith isn’t an explosive scorer, he’s shown an ability to get in the paint and put pressure on defenses before dishing to a teammate in a good scoring position.
Where’s the help?: Coach Stan Van Gundy lamented the fact that with Jackson out, others tried to fill in the void by scoring more and getting away from their games to try to compensate. Andre Drummond started last season on a tear and without Jackson, his pick-and-roll partner, some of his production could be affected. Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris can easily boost their production, and if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope can be just a bit better, that’ll be enough.
Charting Drummond: In each of the three games against the Raptors last season, Drummond posted a double-double, including 15 points and 18 rebounds in the 13-point win on Feb. 28. Toronto’s frontcourt isn’t formidable, which is where the Pistons should have a decided advantage; the problem, though, is trying to hold down the Raptors’ All-Star backcourt. Drummond’s defense on pick-and-rolls will be a focal point — not only in the opener, but throughout the season.
Beno there, done that: Udrih had one practice and today’s shootaround to get familiar with the offense but his vast experience was the reason the Pistons chose him over Ray McCallum Jr. in the final days before the season. Udrih won’t be counted on to score as much as he’s needed to steady the offense and get the ball to Stanley Johnson, Jon Leuer and Aron Baynes in the reserve group.
Steady rotation: The Pistons solidified their bench in the offseason, but Van Gundy maintains that he’ll lean on a nine-man rotation. That could vary with wings Reggie Bullock and Darrun Hilliard or rookie Henry Ellenson sneaking in a few minutes, depending on matchups, foul trouble or injuries. That leaves little margin of error for Stanley Johnson, because the wing position is so loaded.
PISTONS AT RAPTORS
Tipoff: 7:30 tonight, Air Canada Centre, Toronto.
TV / radio: FSD / WMGC.
Notable: It’s the season opener for two of the projected top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons will be without Reggie Jackson (knee tendinitis) but Aron Baynes (broken nose) will be available. The Raptors won by 11 in the preseason finale last week.