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Pistons getting big boost from their reserves

Pistons getting big boost from their reserves

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Detroit had just upset the Miami Heat and LeBron James was reviewing the game with reporters when he saved some of his most effusive praise for an unlikely recipient.

It was Pistons guard Will Bynum, who at one point this season went three weeks without scoring.

``He controlled the game,'' James said. ``We couldn't do anything with him.''

If Detroit finishes with a respectable record - and at 13-23 the Pistons have a long way to go - these last couple weeks may end up being the turning point. Detroit has won six of eight, including a four-game winning streak that ended Sunday.

What's changed? The performance of the backups - players such as Bynum, Austin Daye, Charlie Villanueva and rookie Andre Drummond.

``They play at a pace, a spirit, an energy level, and that's important,'' coach Lawrence Frank said. ``To me, so much of the game is how, on both ends, your pieces fit together.''

Detroit is 10th in the league in bench scoring at 36.9 points per game, according to STATS. But over the last eight games, the reserves are averaging 51.1. That included an 85-point effort in a double-overtime loss at Atlanta on Dec. 26, followed by a 64-point contribution in a 109-99 victory over the Heat.

According to STATS, the 149 points by the reserves were the most in a two-game span since Phoenix got 158 in 1995.

``Within our group, you never know who's going to have a big night,'' Daye said. ``With us, it's just trying to find our niche on the offensive end, which I think we're doing. ... The second unit has done a good job of just trying to stay consistent, trying to move the ball.''

Detroit has been trying to rebuild around young players, including center Greg Monroe and guard Brandon Knight. There wasn't much progress early this season, when the Pistons started 0-8 and fell way behind in the playoff race.

From Nov. 28 through Dec. 15, Bynum played in only two of a possible 11 games and failed to score. About a week after Frank began using him again, Bynum broke through with 31 points in the loss to Atlanta before scoring 25 against Miami.

Daye was even more of a forgotten man, playing in only five of Detroit's first 26 games. Now the slender 6-foot-11 forward is looking more confident. His late 3-pointer helped seal a win over Sacramento on Jan. 1, and he followed that up with 20 points against Atlanta last Friday in the final game of the winning streak.

Villanueva played in only three of the first 13 games but has received his share of minutes since. He's shooting 40 percent from 3-point range. Meanwhile, the 6-foot-11 Drummond is averaging 7.1 points and 7.2 rebounds.

Guard Rodney Stuckey, a starter for much of his time in Detroit, has come off the bench 23 times this season, but he's still averaging 12.2 points.

``I think it's the perfect mixture of players playing together chemistry-wise,'' Bynum said. ``You've got me - find guys and run the team, score when possible. You've got Dre rolling to the basket. It's tough when you've got Austin and Charlie and Stuckey on the weak side. It's tough to defend.''

The big concern going forward is defense. As impressive as it is to watch the second unit score points in bunches, the Pistons have to be mindful of the other end of the court, too. The second quarter is when the backups have done a lot of their damage recently, but as Frank pointed out, Detroit was outscored 38-30 in the period during its 108-101 overtime loss to Charlotte on Sunday that snapped the winning streak.

But with the backups contributing, Frank now feels he has plenty of options, and a rare four-day stretch without a game gave him a chance to consider some varying lineup possibilities before Friday night's matchup at Milwaukee.

``Through practice, we had a bunch of different combinations throughout,'' Frank said Wednesday. ``One of the strengths of our team that we've seen over the last couple weeks is that anyone is capable of closing the game.''

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Scott Brooks, Bradley Beal rip officiating after loss to Clippers

Scott Brooks, Bradley Beal rip officiating after loss to Clippers

WASHINGTON -- Wizards head coach Scott Brooks and guard Bradley Beal have a general policy when it comes to answering questions about officiating. Usually, they avoid details because they don't want to be fined by the league. Often, they say plenty with what they leave unsaid.

Sunday night was not one of those times. After the Wizards' 135-119 loss to the Clippers, both the coach and player broke character, rolled their sleeves up and gave the refs a good old fashioned takedown.

Brooks went first and initially said (sarcastically) the officials got all the calls right in the game. After that, he said what he was really thinking.

"When they grab you and hold you and the rules are saying you've got to call a foul, that's a foul. We don't get that. [Bradley Beal] doesn't get that and it's frustrating," Brooks said.

"The rule is you can't grab a guy with two hands. It's not my rule, it's not their rule; it's the NBA rule. If they're not going to call those more, what are we going to do? We're gonna get frustrated, we're gonna get [technicals] and that's not fair. That's not fun for the coaches, that's not fun for the players, that's not fun for everybody."

Beal, who 20 points and five assists but shot 5-for-18 from the field, didn't hold back, either. And he even explained why he felt he had to speak up this time as opposed to other games when he has been more tight-lipped.

"Honestly, [my frustration] is out the roof. It really is. It's really unfair and unacceptable that they allow a lot of stuff to go on with me out there and I do not calls. Period. It's just unacceptable," he said.

"They fine us for saying something. When we do say something on the floor it's 'oh, I didn't see it' or 'it wasn't my call.' I'm just so tired of hearing that. There's three guys out here. I know nobody's perfect, but the blatant ones have to be called and they're not being called. That s--- ain't fair."

Brooks got a technical for arguing a first-half play he thought should have been a charge taken by Moe Wagner. Davis Bertans and Ish Smith, two of the Wizards' more mild-mannered players, also got T'd up.

Brooks thought Smith getting a technical embodied the evening perfectly.

"When Ish [Smith] gets a [technical foul], I know something's going on. That guys is the nicest guy on the planet. He gets a technical by just telling a referee to call it the same on the other end," Brooks said.

Beal was not assessed a technical, though he said he was appreciative of Smith and Bertans sticking up for him. He also said he feels like the lack of respect from referees has been worse this year and suggested the Wizards aren't getting the respect other teams like the Clippers do because of their 7-15 record.

To be fair, the numbers didn't exactly back up those claims on Sunday. The Wizards had 30 free throw attempts, three more than L.A. did. And Beal led all players with nine. He made all nine of them. Beal is also ninth in the NBA in free throw attempts at 7.2 per game, up from his average last season of 5.5.

This was, though, clearly something that had built over a series of games. And the Wizards are averaging the fifth-fewest free throw attempts per game this season at just 20.4 per contest. The Clippers, for comparison, are fourth in the NBA at 26.2.

But when the Wizards are in a close game with a team like the Clippers, who have way more talent than they do, it is hard for them to accept when they feel the referees aren't giving them a fair chance.

And for Brooks, it was particularly bad for Beal, whom he says "gets held all the time." And it's bad for rookie Rui Hachimura, who made all seven of his free throw attempts but should have had more if you ask his head coach.

"He attacks and he gets zero free throws. I understand nobody knows him, but we know him. That doesn't mean anything. You should be able to get to the free throw line with the way he attacks," Brooks said.

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Bowl season: Penn State, UVA get New Year's Six, the Hokies bowl shuffle and Navy's tough draw

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Bowl season: Penn State, UVA get New Year's Six, the Hokies bowl shuffle and Navy's tough draw

The regular season is over, the conference championships decided and the playoff bracket is set. Yes, it's bowl season. Bowl bids were handed out on Sunday and Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Navy all found out their postseason fates.

Here's where each team is headed this bowl season:

Penn State vs. Memphis, Cotton Bowl Classic on Saturday, Dec. 28

Ohio State is headed to the College Football Playoff and the Big Ten's Rose Bowl bid is going to Wisconsin. Penn State, however, managed to squeak into the New Year's Six as the No. 10 team in the nation. They will take on Group of 5 representative Memphis who won the AAC.

Virginia vs. Florida, Orange Bowl on Monday, Dec. 30

The Cavaliers are headed to the Orange Bowl for the first time in school history. More on this game here.

Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky, Belk Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 31

The Belk Bowl always seemed like the likely destination for Virginia Tech, but their opponent was a bit of a mystery. If you were following along on Twitter before things were made official, the Hokies were supposed to play Mississippi State, then it was Tennessee, then Kentucky, then Tennesse again and then back to Kentucky.

Now it's official and we know for sure it will be Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky.

The issue was reportedly Tennessee changing its bowl preference at the last minute.


Navy vs. Kansas State, Liberty Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 31

Kansas State is the only team in the nation with a win over a College Football Playoff team. They defeated Oklahoma 48-41 in October.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo had the quote of the day about his team's matchup.

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