Daily Confidential

The Detroit Pistons appear to have rediscovered their interior game, and that does not bode well for the short-handed New Jersey Nets.

Detroit goes for its fifth consecutive win Tuesday in a matchup with the Nets, who recently lost starting center Nenad Krstic to a season-ending knee injury.

The Pistons (17-8) were faced with replacing their own center in the offseason when Ben Wallace signed as a free agent with Chicago. Detroit responded by signing Nazr Mohammed from San Antonio.

The adjustment to playing without Wallace was evident in the season opener, when Detroit allowed 70 points in the paint and lost 105-97 to Milwaukee.

``After that Milwaukee game, we really put an emphasis on protecting the basket,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. ``It's become a point of pride that we contest everything.''

Since then, Detroit has solidified its inside game and its 92.5 points allowed per game ranks second in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland's 92.2.

Recently, Mohammed has seen his contributions increase, with a combined 38 points and 24 rebounds in the last three contests.

Detroit's interior play could be further helped by the Christmas break, with power forward Rasheed Wallace getting to rest his sore ankles.

His limited minutes lately, though, may end up helping Detroit's frontcourt because Jason Maxiell has begun to emerge. The second-year forward has averaged 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds over the past four games.

Maxiell was one of five Pistons to score in double figures with 14 points on Saturday, and Mohammed led Detroit with a season-high 19 points and 10 rebounds in a 108-81 rout of Atlanta.

The victory was the Pistons' fourth in a row and sixth in seven games, as they have held opponents to an average of 84.7 points in that span.

``For the first time this season, we were able to just come out and do what we needed to do,'' point guard Chauncey Billups said. ``We just took control and never looked back. We should have a lot more games like that.''

Detroit could have success in the paint against New Jersey, as Krstic was ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during a 99-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.

The Nets (11-16) followed that defeat with another Saturday, falling 115-104 at Milwaukee for their sixth road loss in seven tries.

``If we give up a lot of easy buckets and we don't get to the paint, it's going to be hard to win,'' New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said.

Jason Collins moved from forward to center and managed only three points and three rebounds in place of Krstic, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder with 16.4 points and 6.8 boards per game.

The Pistons' four-game win streak started in New Jersey, winning 90-82 on Dec. 16 despite Krstic's season-high 27 points. The Nets won 79-74 in their most recent visit to Detroit on March 26.

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