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Published: Monday, 4/14/2008

Bench big for Pistons

ASSOCIATED PRESS

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Detroit Pistons knew they were going to have a talented young bench this season.

Now, with the playoffs fast approaching, they are starting to understand just how good the group has become.

Yesterday, facing a Toronto team trying to lock up the Eastern Conference's sixth seed, the Pistons pulled away down the stretch and won 91-84 even though all five starters were resting comfortably on the bench.

"Our bench was great again," coach Flip Saunders said. "Not just offensively, but with the energy they bring defensively. They get how we want to play against teams."

Detroit finished the game with its "Zoo Squad" - Jarvis Hayes, Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, and rookies Arron Afflalo and Rodney Stuckey. The group averages just 22.8 years of age, but the youngsters have proven their worth in back-to-back wins over Washington and Toronto.

"They would definitely be a playoff team," veteran Chauncey Billups said. "Look what they are doing with 20-something minutes a night, and imagine what they could do with 34 or 35. They've beaten playoff teams the last two games - teams that are playing hard and have their starters in late."

The loss drops Toronto (40-40) into a tie with Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference's sixth seed with two games left, although the Raptors have the tiebreaker. The sixth seed will play Orlando in the first round, while the seventh seed faces Detroit.

The score was tied at 65 early in the fourth when the Pistons turned the game over to the kids. Stuckey and Maxiell combined for 18 points in the period, and Detroit outshot Toronto 60 percent to 42 percent.

Stuckey led the Pistons with 18 points. Maxiell and Billups added 14 each.

Chris Bosh had 30 for Toronto.



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