Pistons Outpace Cavs, Win Sixth Straight
Detroit 84, Cleveland 72
CLEVELAND, Feb. 27 (Ticker) -- The Detroit Pistons didn't officially clinch the Central Division title Monday. To the Cleveland Cavaliers, it just seemed that way.
The Cavaliers appear relegated to playing for seeding after a disheartening 84-72 loss to the Pistons, who allowed just nine points in the fourth quarter of their sixth straight win.
"If we continue to play like this, we've got to stop thinking about playoffs and start thinking about trying to edge our way into the playoffs, and we don't want to do that," Cleveland forward Drew Gooden said.
"Gaining the home-court advantage. That's what (the goal) has always been," Cavaliers guard Eric Snow said. "(Detroit) jumped out to such a good start, everybody knew it was going to be tough to catch that team."
With a pair of convincing 12-point wins, the Pistons handled the Cavaliers, who have lost four in a row and have showed too many weaknesses on Monday to present a challenge. At no time was that more evident than in the fourth quarter.
"We played three-fourths of a basketball game tonight," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "(Detroit) did what they do best - they stepped it up defensively."
In the final period, Detroit limited Cleveland to 3-of-12 shooting while forcing five turnovers. The Cavaliers finished with a season-low 72 points and managed one basket for a 9:23 span.
Consecutive baskets by Maurice Evans gave the Pistons the lead for good at 70-67 with 7:50 to go. Chauncey Billups made three free throws less than a minute later to double the advantage.
After Cleveland's LeBron James split two free throws, Hamilton sank a pair of jumpers to give Detroit a 79-70 lead with 1:58 left. James responded with a tough bank shot, but Hamilton scooted around a screen for a jumper and Billups sealed it with a three-point play in the final minute.
"It was a situation where they were denying me the ball," said James, who scored just three of his 26 points in the final period. "They did a great job of denying me."
Since Cleveland defeated Detroit on New Year's Eve, the Cavaliers are 10-15 while the Pistons are 23-5.
"The satisfying thing is, right now we've put basically 16 games in the loss column between us and the next closest team in our division," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. "When you can do that with 26 games to go, you're in pretty good shape."
The Cavaliers appear destined for no better than the fourth seed. They are even in the loss column with fifth-seeded Indiana and one game in the loss column ahead of Washington.
Asked if Cleveland's collapse and missing the playoffs last season weighed on his mind, Gooden replied, "Here and there the last couple of games, it crossed my mind, but before that, not at all."
Billups had 15 points and 12 assists and Ben Wallace swept 12 boards for Detroit, which shot just 38 percent (33-of-87), was beaten on the boards (42-39) and outscored in the paint (36-20) and in second-chance points (17-12) - and still won rather easily.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 18 points and a season-high 15 rebounds for Cleveland, which shot 39 percent (27-of-70), including just 2-of-13 from the arc.
Ilgauskas and Rasheed Wallace reprised their feud from Sunday, when Wallace elbowed Ilgauskas in the head, drawing blood, a flagrant foul and a $5,000 fine from the NBA. Midway through the second quarter, both players were assessed technical fouls after some extracurricular activity.
"Rasheed got a technical foul for smiling and I thought that's what this game was about, having fun," Saunders said.
"There's no laughing in basketball," Wallace joked. "Basketball is a serious game."
The Pistons led at all the stops, although the Cavaliers took a 66-64 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Sasha Pavlovic. However, Drew Gooden scored Cleveland's only bucket until James made his banker.
"You've got a veteran team here and we're not going to get overly excited about (technical fouls) or anything like that," Ben Wallace said. "We're going to stay focused, stay poised and play our game."