Aubameyang takes centre stage as injury sidelines Salah

first_imgGuinean Amadou Diawara scored his first Italian Serie A goal to earn Napoli a last-gasp 2-1 win over Chievo and keep them in hot pursuit of leaders Juventus.ENGLANDPIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG/MOHAMED ELNENY (Arsenal)The Gabon striker slotted home Danny Welbeck’s pass from close range to keep his scoring streak since becoming Arsenal’s club record signing in January.However, there was an end to forget for Egypt midfielder Elneny as he was shown a straight red card for pushing his hand into Cedric Soares’s face as tempers flared in the closing stages.STEVE MOUNIE (Huddersfield)Mounie pounced on a terrible backpass from Brighton’s Shane Duffy to salvage a priceless point for Huddersfield, who drew 1-1 in their quest to remain in the Premier League.The Benin striker now has nine goals in all competitions this season.MAME BIRAM DIOUF (Stoke)Diouf grabbed his sixth goal of the season, but admitted he couldn’t remember much about it after Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris’s clearance smashed off the Senegalese’s face.The forward kept his balance just long enough to slot the ball into the unguarded goal.However, Diouf’s bravery didn’t ultimately help Stoke’s battle against the drop as two goals from Christian Eriksen condemned them to a 2-1 defeat, leaving them still rooted in the relegation zone.SPAINNABIL EL ZHAR (Leganes)Morocco-born former Liverpool winger El Zhar cut inside and fired into the bottom corner from the edge of the box despite slipping as he shot to give runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona some anxious moments before Lionel Messi completed his hat-trick to ensure a 3-1 victory at Camp Nou.Barcelona are unbeaten in 38 league matches, equalling the record set by Real Sociedad 38 years ago.ITALYCHEICK DIABATE (Benevento)Mali forward Diabate scored a brace to twice drag Benevento back into the game against champions Juventus, but the rock-bottom side lost 4-2 and fell to their 26th defeat in 31 games.Diabate tapped in a rebound after 24 minutes to cancel out Paulo Dybala’s opener and scored his second six minutes after the break with a header off a corner.The towering forward has scored five goals since arriving in Naples last February. But the 29-year-old — who helped save French club Metz from relegation in 2016 — looks to have arrived too late for Benevento.AMADOU DIAWARA (Napoli)Guinean midfielder Diawara scored his debut Serie A goal and a last-ditch winner that kept Napoli’s title ambitions burning with a 2-1 win over Chievo.The ball dropped for the 20-year-old midfielder to curl in a right-foot finish from a corner at the 93rd minute in Naples. “I’m very happy, it’s my first Serie A goal and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Diawara.“I dedicate this goal to my mother, who died a year before I came to Italy, so she didn’t get to see me play in Serie A.” Napoli remain within four points of leaders Juventus.GERMANYISHAK BELFODIL (Werder Bremen)The Algeria striker, on loan this season from Standard Liege, netted Werder Bremen’s consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat at Hanover 96.Belfodil netted his third goal in as many league games when his header looped over the Hanover goalkeeper and into the net via the crossbar.FRANCELEBO MOTHIBA (Lille)The South African forward, 22, put Lille in front at Bordeaux with his third goal in eight games since being recalled from a loan at second-tier Valenciennes in January.However, he could not stop his side from sliding to a 2-1 defeat that leaves the 2011 champions still in the relegation zone, without a win in nine games.0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today) 0Shares0000The absence of injured Liverpool and Egypt star Mohamed Salah allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to steal the limelight among the African stars in Europe at the weekend © AFP/File / Glyn KIRKPARIS, France, Apr 9 – The absence of injured Liverpool and Egypt star Mohamed Salah allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to steal the limelight among the African stars in Europe at the weekend.He scored his sixth goal in eighth appearances for Arsenal since moving from Borussia Dortmund as they shaded Southampton 3-2 in a fiery English Premier League clash.last_img read more

Heat Pumps Get a Leg Up in Vermont

first_imgHeat pumps could save consumers a lot of moneyVermont is a cold weather state, all of it in Climate Zone 6, but the most efficient air-source heat pumps work in temperatures well below zero, and converting a conventional heating system to one incorporating a high-efficiency heat pump would offer hefty savings.According to a fact sheet at Efficiency Vermont, a homeowner would save $1,842 a year by shifting 80% of the heating load away from electric resistance heat to a cold-weather heat pump. Propane users would save $1,268 a year, and those with oil heat would save $865 a year.(Efficiency Vermont says those estimates are based on the average annual heating load in Vermont of 77 million Btu, and an assumed heat pump Coefficient of Performance of 2.5. Fuel cost estimates are averages from the state’s Department of Public Service.)Only homeowners using pellets or cordwood to heat their homes would pay more with a high-efficiency heat pump, the agency said. It would be $68 a year cheaper to heat with wood pellets and $325 a year cheaper to heat with wood. More Vermonters will be installing high-efficiency heat pumps in their homes thanks to a bill signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin on June 11.The legislation allows Efficiency Vermont, an agency that collects money from utility ratepayers to fund programs that lower energy consumption, to use some of its $40 million annual budget to subsidize the purchase of high-efficiency heat pumps.“We have been given the mandate now to do something with regard to heat pumps, which is something that Efficiency Vermont never had before because our mandate was to reduce electric usage,” Public Affairs Manager Kelly Lucci said. “In this case, we have a technology that increases electric usage but does it very efficiently and displaces much dirtier fossil fuels.”Just like utilities that distribute or generate power, Efficiency Vermont is a regulated utility. Details about the new heat pump program, and how much money will be committed to it, are still to be worked out with state utility regulators.But one approach that’s well along in the planning stages is an “upstream efficiency program” in which subsidies are used to buy down the cost of high-efficiency air-source heat pumps with vendors and dealers. When a homeowner purchases a heat pump, the most efficient models will cost the same or less than less efficient models. Lucci said that part of the program could be up and running by the end of the year.At a later date, the program might also include ground-source heat pumps, but Lucci said that technology would be subject to cost-effectiveness tests before it could be covered by any subsidies.“This is venturing into new territory for us,” she said. “We’re excited about it. It means we’re able to think about ways to meet the needs of folks who are very excited about this technology and see it as a way to save money and reduce their carbon impact.” Vermont utility launched heat pump rentals a year agoThe legislation is brand new, but almost a year ago, Green Mountain Power announced a heat-pump rental program centered in the Rutland area. Green Mountain, which serves about 250,000 customers, said the pilot program was the first of its kind in the U.S.The utility initially announced last July that it would pay to install heat pumps in as many as 200 homes and small businesses and rent them to the property owners for between $44 and $53 a month.But a week later, the company said the response from consumers “has been flabbergasting,” with more than 500 customers expressing interest in getting their hands on a no-money-down heat pump. As a result, the utility said it would expand the program to include everyone who had responded at that point but would close the pilot to any additional customers.As it turned out, not all of those people had houses suitable for heat pumps; they didn’t have open floor plans, for example, or the wood stoves they had were already doing a good job of heating. By this March, roughly 150 heat pumps had been rented under the program, a Green Mountain spokeswoman said. The company is planning on expanding the program this year to include a few hundred new customers.“We believe air-source heat pumps can dramatically change the way Vermonters heat their homes, and reduce economic costs and environmental impacts of burning foreign oil,” Green Mountain President and CEO Mary Powell said at the time the rental program was announced. “This program will help demonstrate that value, while creating jobs for installers and freeing up customers’ cash for other purposes.”center_img State aims to drive down the cost of providing electricityOverall, Vermont has done a lot to trim energy consumption. In a statement issued by the governor’s office on June 11, Shumlin said Vermonters used 13% less electricity in 2013 than they would have without all of the efficiency investments made since 2000.Energy efficiency programs, along with distributed renewable electricity generation, has helped to defer nearly $400 million in infrastructure costs, Efficiency Vermont Director Jim Merriam said in a statement.The heat pump subsidies dovetail with more consumer interest in the technology. Merriam said that in the last year, 2,400 cold-climate heat pumps had been purchased in the state.The legisation, he said, “calls for Efficiency Vermont to help Vermont families and businesses understand what their best energy choices are from a cost and a carbon perspective, and then act on that information. That might mean that in some cases we actually encourage the use of more electricity, but less oil or propane.”last_img read more

Cignal wins PVL men’s crown anew

first_imgUPLB exempted from SEA Games class suspension SEA Games in Calabarzon safe, secure – Solcom chief Don’t miss out on the latest news and information. LeBron calls for love, unity before taking swipe at Trump Man sworn in as lawyer by judge who sentenced him to prison as a teen 20 years ago LATEST STORIES Saku Capate added 16 points and was awarded as Finals MVP four days after being named conference MVP.Ismail fired a game-high 21 points for the Volley Bolt, who forced the winner-take-all following a five-set victory on Wednesday in Game 2.FEATURED STORIESSPORTSWATCH: Drones light up sky in final leg of SEA Games torch runSPORTSSEA Games: Philippines picks up 1st win in men’s water poloSPORTSMalditas save PH from shutoutIn the battle for third place, Air Force turned back Sta. Elena, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23.Alnakran Abdilla led the Jet Spikers with 25 points. LOOK: Venues for 2019 SEA Games Flags of SEA Games countries raised at Athletes Village Trending Articles PLAY LIST 00:50Trending Articles00:50Trending Articles00:50Trending Articles01:37Protesters burn down Iran consulate in Najaf01:47Panelo casts doubts on Robredo’s drug war ‘discoveries’01:29Police teams find crossbows, bows in HK university01:35Panelo suggests discounted SEA Games tickets for students02:49Robredo: True leaders perform well despite having ‘uninspiring’ boss02:42PH underwater hockey team aims to make waves in SEA Games Read Next MOST READ Catriona Gray spends Thanksgiving by preparing meals for people with illnesses Cignal seized its second straight championship after topping Mega Builders, 25-23, 25-17, 22-25, 25-22, in the Premier Volleyball League Open Conference Wednesday at Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.Ysay Marasigan topscored for the HD Spikers with 17 points, including the title-clinching block on Fauzi Ismail.ADVERTISEMENT WATCH: Streetboys show off slick dance moves in Vhong Navarro’s wedding Brace for potentially devastating typhoon approaching PH – NDRRMC View commentslast_img read more

Injured Jeje Lalpekhlua set to miss Nehru Cup defence

first_imgIndia coach Wim Koevermans has been forced to leave out striker Jeje Lalpekhlua from the Nehru Cup squad.Koevermans announced the final 20-man squad on Sunday, with prominent names like Joaquim Abranches and Rocus Lamare failing to make the cut.Lalpekhlua, who played in the 2011 AFC Challenge Cup and SAFF Championships, is not fit.The footballer was earlier apprehensive about his fitness on the first day of practice, after the team shifted to Delhi. “I have got a call for the senior squad after long time as I was injured. But I still don’t know how match-fit I am,” Jeje told Mail Today on Friday.In the absence of Lalpekhlua, India will have to rely on senior forward Sunil Chhetri along with Manandeep Singh and Robin Singh for getting the goals.Manandeep has been picked up from the u-22 side along with attacking mid-fielder Alwyn George Alwyn. Defending champion India play Syria in the opener on Wednesday. Koevermans said he was satisfied with the preparations.Squad: GOALKEEPERS: Subrata Pal, Subhasish Roychowdhury, Karanjeet Singh; DEFENDERS: Nirmal Chhetri, Denzil Franco, Gouramangi Singh, Gurwinder Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Syed Rahim Nabi; MIDFIELDERS: Lenny Rodrigues, Mehtab Hossain, Jewel Raja, Francis Fernandes, Alwyn George, Anthony Pereira, Sanju Pradhan, Clifford Miranda; FORWARDS: Robin Singh, Sunil Chhetri, Manandeep Singh.last_img read more

Video: ESPN’s First Take Debates Braxton Miller’s Position Change

first_imgStephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim on the set of ESPN First Take.If you aren’t a big fan of either Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless, you may want to skip this one. Friday, the two gave their takes on the Braxton-Miller-is-switching-positions news, and, as you might guess, it’s being met with a great deal of criticism.While Smith’s initial rant mostly goes in circles (per usual), he does mention that it initially gave him “cause for pause” when he heard that Miller, a black quarterback, was being encouraged to play another position. Considering the team’s other two options – J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones – are also black, he claims that this scenario is a bit different. Bayless, meanwhile, thinks that Barrett might win the position. According to Smith, there’s no chance of that happening.Enjoy, we think.last_img

Shaq Lawson: “We’re Going To Show Dalvin Cook Why He Should Have Come To Clemson”

first_imgShaq Lawson interviewed ahead of FSU game.shaq lawson clemson dalvin cook florida stateClemson and Florida State are set to tangle this Saturday, and more than likely, the contest will decide which team wins the Atlantic division in the ACC. Despite losing the last three matchups to the Seminoles, at least one Tigers player is confident about how his team will perform. Junior defensive end Shaq Lawson talked a bit of trash Monday, telling reporters that he believes that the Tigers will “show Dalvin Cook why he should have come to Clemson” by the time the game is over. Cook, at one point, was committed to play for the Tigers before flipping and attending FSU [email protected]_Lawson90 “We’re going to show Dalvin Cook why he should have come to Clemson by the end of the night.” pic.twitter.com/X0tZSNpkXP— CUTigers.com (@CUTigers_com) November 2, 2015#Clemson DE Shaq Lawson talks trash: “We’re going to show Dalvin Cook why he should have come to Clemson by the end of the night.” #FSU— Tom D’Angelo (@tomdangelo44) November 2, 2015Tigernet.com has video of the press conference, if you’re interested.Cook has become a star this year, rushing for over 1,000 yards in just seven games. If Clemson is actually able to shut him down (provided he plays), it’ll have a much easier time leaving Memorial Stadium victorious.last_img read more

Bajrang gets top billing at World Championships

first_imgNew Delhi: India’s top grappler Bajrang Punia has been handed the top billing in the men’s 65kg freestyle category at the World Championships, slated to begin in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan from September 14. World number one Bajrang, who is in Russia for training ahead of the championships, had bagged a silver in the last edition and a bronze in 2013 in 60 kg. “Training abroad with foreign athletes has helped me grow as a wrestler. Sparring with some of the best names in Georgia, Russia and USA has made me more aware of my opponents,” said Bajrang. Also Read – Puducherry on top after 8-wkt win over Chandigarh”Besides, having my own team of coach, physio, trainer and sports science support staff has benefited me a lot and instilled a lot of confidence into me ahead of the World Championships.” Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar remains India’s only gold medallist at the Worlds. He had climbed on top of the podium in the 2010 edition. United World Wrestling, the world governing body, organised a training camp for all the wrestlers in Nur Sultan to help them acclimatise to the conditions. Also Read – Vijender’s next fight on Nov 22, opponent to be announced later”It is a very good initiative taken by UWW ahead of such a big event. All wrestlers will be eyeing Olympic berths at the World Championships this time and an acclimation camp can help them to be ready for the challenge,” said Punia. Maharashtra wrestler Rahul Aware has been handed second seed in 61 kg while reigning junior world champion Deepak Punia has been seeded fourth in the 86 kg. “My training has gone really well and I am excited to make my World Championships debut. “Winning a gold at the World Junior Championships last month has boosted my confidence level and I am eager to give my all,” said Deepak, who ended India’s 18-year-old medal drought at the Junior World Championships. Among women, India’s Seema Bisla has been seeded second in the 50 kg. A gold medal at Yasar Dogu Ranking Series has propelled her to number three in the world.last_img read more

Drew Brees Donates 50000 To Help Flood Victims In Texas

first_imgNew Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife Brittany are helping families affected by major flooding in Texas.The couple teamed up with Convoy of Hope and donated $50,000 to assist families as they recover from the flooding. Convoy of Hope has already distributed food, water and other much-needed supplies in Texas communities that flooded.“Convoy of Hope is an organization committed to helping people who are suffering,” says Brees. “As we’ve done in the past, we’re honored to help them reach families who need help.”The gift from the Brees’ also enabled Convoy of Hope to send multiple disaster response vehicles into the affected areas including a mobile command center, heavy equipment truck, refrigerated trailer loaded with relief supplies, two debris removal trailers, a debris removal van, a volunteer coordination trailer, equipment trailer and two field utility vehicles.Brees and The Brees Dream Foundation first partnered with Convoy of Hope after an EF-5 tornado slammed Joplin, Mo., in 2011. Since 2013, the organizations have continued to work together in recovery efforts following Superstorm Sandy.“We truly appreciate Drew and Brittany’s partnership,” says Hal Donaldson, president and co-founder of Convoy of Hope. “Their personal generosity and their work through The Brees Dream Foundation has given many people help and hope during desperate times.”last_img read more

Each NL Playoff Teams Biggest Strength — And Weakness

Between the record-smashing rookie campaign of Aaron Judge, the Cleveland Indians’ win streak and the Houston Astros’ ridiculous feats of offense, the National League has felt like a bit of an afterthought this season. (A huge amount of NL attention went to a player who isn’t even in the playoffs.) But in any other season, elite contenders like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals wouldn’t be flying under the radar. As we did with the American League earlier this week, we picked out each National League team’s most important strength, plus the one weakness that might trip them up en route to the World Series.Los Angeles Dodgers (17 percent chance of winning the World Series) Strength: Power, speed and pitching.As they showcased in the wild-card game against the Colorado Rockies — crushing two home runs and legging out three triples — the D-Backs can beat you in a variety of different ways. During the regular season, they ranked second among all MLB teams in isolated power (trailing only the hard-hitting Astros), first in baserunning value over average1Averaging together the baserunning metrics found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com. and first in Bill James’s Speed Score (a composite that indexes a bunch of speed-related stats). Before Arizona did it this year, no team since 2001 had posted a .190 slugging and a 5.0 Speed Score in the same season. Add in a pitching staff that ranked second overall by WAR, and the Diamondbacks might have the most unique combination of strengths in this playoff field.Weakness: Hitting for average.Despite playing in a ballpark that boosts batting average the second-most of any team’s home digs (only Coors Field is better to hit in), the Diamondbacks hit just .254 this season, 18 points lower than we’d expect of an average team in the same park. Only three teams — the Blue Jays, Rangers and Padres — hit for a lower average relative to expectations, and all three of those teams had below-average offenses. Arizona managed to make things work anyway because of their rare combination of power and speed, but the D-Backs’s lousy average meant they were mediocre at plating base runners with two outs, and generally subpar in the clutch. On Wednesday night, Arizona’s lineup showed everyone how it can erupt in big offensive outbursts, but it still needs to prove it can do some of the situational hitting the playoffs will inevitably require.Washington Nationals(11 percent chance of winning the World Series) Strength: Ace-level starters.The Nationals have long been led by a superb starting rotation, but Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez put up some of their best career performances this year. According to The Baseball Gauge’s wins above replacement meta-metric,2The metric takes Baseball Gauge’s own WAR metric and averages it with aspects from two other versions of WAR — Baseball-Reference.com’s and FanGraphs’. Specifically, for this article, I set the meta-metric to average together every option equally in each category, with no regression for fielding metrics and the positional adjustment not included in offensive and defensive WAR. To see the leaderboards I saw while writing this piece, click through to the Baseball Gauge links and make sure the filters are set correctly. the Nationals ranked third in the majors in total WAR from their starting pitchers, and the Scherzer-Strasburg-Gonzalez trio was especially great — each ranked among baseball’s 10 best starters by WAR.3Cleveland, with Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, is the only other team that can even claim two of the top 10. For Strasburg and Gonzalez, the 2017 season was somewhat out of line with their recent track records, but Scherzer has been dominant forever — only LA’s Clayton Kershaw has been a more valuable starter over the past five seasons. In the postseason, when top-of-the-rotation pitching is paramount, Washington’s aces give them an enviable advantage against just about anybody.Weakness: Their best might not be enough.There aren’t many holes in Washington’s roster, especially now that two of its top players — shortstop Trea Turner and, more recently, right fielder Bryce Harper — are back after missing large portions of the season with injuries. But even with all their stars, it’s fair to ask where the Nationals stand relative to what might be the most stacked postseason field ever. Our Elo ratings currently place Washington seventh in MLB.4Behind the Indians, Astros, Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers and Red Sox. Most years, a team as good as Washington would rank third or fourth,5Since the wild-card era began in 1995, the average MLB ranking for teams who finished the regular season with an Elo between 1550 and 1560 was 3.48. but this is no ordinary season. And as much as MLB’s playoffs have earned their reputation as a crapshoot, there’s a definite relationship between a team’s talent and its World Series chances.Chicago Cubs(10 percent chance of winning the World Series) Strength: Completeness.The defending-champion Cubs were nowhere near as dominant in 2017 as they were in 2016, dropping from No. 1 in WAR (by far) to a lowly seventh. But one area where the club still had that championship feel was in its lack of a glaring weak point. A year removed from sending an absurd number of players to the All-Star Game, Chicago still had one of the best top-to-bottom teams in baseball. According to WAR, the Cubs got the most production in baseball from its catchers, the second-most from its third basemen, the third-most from its first basemen and — most importantly — didn’t rank any lower than 14th at any single position.6Including pitchers but excluding designated hitters, to fairly compare NL and AL teams. Not even the mighty Indians can say their weakest links were so strong. In the playoffs, important contributions often come from unlikely sources. Chicago should be covered.Weakness: Inexplicably mediocre pitching.One of Chicago’s deadliest weapons a year ago was its stellar pitching staff, led by an outstanding crop of starters. The group got a lot of help from a historically sturdy defense, which fell back to earth (though was still excellent) this season, but that doesn’t explain why Chicago’s pitchers declined in fielding-independent measurements. Chicago hurlers fell from 3rd to 8th in strikeout rate this season, from 18th to 24th in walk rate and from 6th to 16th in home run rate — perhaps because their average fastball velocity was among the slowest in baseball. As a result, the Cubs’ top pitchers saw their value drop almost across the board, and as a group they generated about 7 fewer wins this year than last. Without that fearsome rotation, Chicago’s title hopes are a shadow of what they were this time last season. Strength: Best form.Although the Dodgers had baseball’s best Elo rating (FiveThirtyEight’s pet metric for judging a team’s strength at any moment) for a decent chunk of the season, they ultimately finished the year behind the Indians. But when the Dodgers were at their very best, they reached a higher peak than any other team this season — including Cleveland during its 22-game winning streak. In the course of a scorching midseason run — winning 52 times in 61 games — LA’s Elo rating hit a high of 1612, not only the best of any MLB team this year, but also the 19th-best of all time (and the second-best of the last 48 seasons, trailing only the 1998 Yankees). The Dodgers looked totally unbeatable for more than two months, with a lineup full of hot hitters crawling out of the woodwork and an excessively deep pitching staff.Weakness: Recent form.As invincible as the Dodgers seemed during their hot streak, they stumbled badly beginning in late August, losing 16 of 17 games (including 11 straight at one point) before righting the ship with a 12-6 finish to the regular season. In the process, they became the only team in baseball history to have separate 16-game stretches where they both won and lost 15 times. A late-season swoon doesn’t carry any special penalty in terms of “momentum,” but the fact that LA was even capable of such putrid play for a sustained period means there are still some questions to be answered about how reliable a favorite the Dodgers really are.Arizona Diamondbacks (6 percent chance of winning the World Series) read more

The Pistons Are Far From Perfect But They Could Make Noise In

Reggie Jackson feeding Blake Griffin in the post (via @BleacherReport) pic.twitter.com/yx5tmzqwuK— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) February 1, 2019The team has to use an array of handoffs and screens, both on and off the ball, to convince defenders to move and to free up jump-shooters.4The team’s lineups lack two-way balance. So despite Bruce Brown’s valuable defensive contributions, his inability to shoot allows defenders to ignore him along the perimeter, making it tougher to find someone like Luke Kennard or Wayne Ellington. No team scores fewer fast-break points per night than Detroit, and the Pistons are less efficient after forcing a turnover on D than any other NBA club.If there’s been a surprise during the team’s stretch of solid play, it’s that Detroit has shot so well in the aftermath of trading its best shooter, Reggie Bullock — a deal that initially looked suspect and suggested to many that the Pistons were trying to dodge paying the luxury tax. (Signing perimeter threat Wayne Ellington obviously made up for much of that.)But there’s a strong argument to be made that speedy backup guard Ish Smith has been the catalyst in the turnaround. The Pistons were terrible in the time he missed earlier in the season with an injury but looked competent again once he rejoined the lineup. (With Smith out, the only other point guard Detroit had outside of Jackson was 37-year-old Jose Calderon.)Heading into Wednesday night’s games, only four players5Charlotte’s Tony Parker, Golden State’s Alfonzo McKinnie, Utah’s Georges Niang and Boston’s Semi Ojeleye. had helped boost their teams’ winning percentages more than Smith,6Only counting players who’d appeared in at least 30 games while also missing at least 10. according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Pistons have logged a 21-13 record with Smith (61.8 percent) and an 8-18 mark (30.8 percent) without him.Buying stock in the Pistons feels risky because of their shallow depth and their cold spells that feel like arctic blasts straight from Canada. This 11-game stretch hasn’t been tough, featuring just two wins over teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.Still, Detroit owns an 87 percent playoff probability and a favorable remaining schedule — far easier than that of Brooklyn, Charlotte or Miami.7But slightly tougher than Orlando’s. The Pistons’ defense has been solid all year (Drummond is among the league leaders in steals), and the club limits opponents to a league-low 33.7 percent from the 3-point line.There’s a bizarre universe in which the Pistons could reach the playoffs at below .500 and still be favored in the first round. If the Pistons land at the No. 6 seed, and the Pacers minus star Victor Oladipo hold on to the No. 3, not only would Detroit have the top player in the series, but it would also have a real chance to advance to the second round.Beggars can’t be choosers, and those might be high hopes for now. But for a capped-out franchise that hasn’t reached the second round since 2008, the mere dream itself almost feels like a noteworthy accomplishment.Check out our latest NBA predictions. There’s a natural tendency in the NBA to lavish attention on teams that, with every bad loss, send social media into a tizzy because of what it might mean for the league’s landscape. For instance, if the LeBron-led Lakers don’t reach the postseason — a 80 percent probability at this point — it would seem a foregone conclusion that major changes would take place in L.A. this summer.On the other extreme, then, are the Pistons. Detroit, which has been to the NBA playoffs once in the past nine seasons, desperately craves a postseason berth. But if the Pistons don’t make it, there won’t be headlines in national news outlets criticizing them for it. And even if there were, it would be tough to make big changes within an organization that has a first-year head coach and a top-heavy roster. This is their team for now.The Pistons are clearly an imperfect club. But they can bolster their fortunes by simply continuing to play the way they have in recent weeks, winning eight of their past 11 games. Through Feb. 1, the sputtering Pistons’ offense ranked 29th out of the league’s 30 teams in both effective field goal rate and true shooting percentage. Since Feb. 2, though, the club has jumped into the top five leaguewide in both categories.Unlike earlier stretches in the season, when All-Star forward Blake Griffin was carrying the offense, the Pistons have enjoyed a far more balanced approach over the past month. The team’s share of one-on-one plays — which was the NBA’s second-highest through Feb. 11Behind Houston. — ranked just 12th over the past month of action, according to stat-tracking database Second Spectrum.After coming into the season showing off a jumper that wasn’t quite game-ready, two-time All-Star Andre Drummond has looked better than ever simply by getting back to the basics near the rim. He’s averaging more than 22 points and 17 boards2He’s leading the NBA again in rebounding. over his past seven games and has found considerable success with a nifty little push shot from about 8 feet out. Beyond that, maddeningly inconsistent guard Reggie Jackson has been consistently good for a month now and is shooting a career-best 36 percent from deep.All of this is noteworthy for an offense that sometimes shoots as if the object of the sport is to bruise the backboard with repeated misfires. On Wednesday in San Antonio, for instance, Detroit bricked 14 of its first 15 shots to begin the second quarter. Coach Dwane Casey has acknowledged that the iso-heavy games prior to February were largely a necessity: Griffin trying to break down an entire defense — or simply trying to post up — was often Detroit’s best hope.3With Griffin and others often standing around waiting for things to happen on offense, the Pistons rank third in the NBA in three-second violations. read more