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Posted Feb 19 2007 1:10PM
Just like last season, the Detroit Pistons took the Eastern Conference's best record into the All-Star break.
They'll try to get off to a strong start after the break for the second straight season Tuesday night when they visit the injury-plagued Milwaukee Bucks.
Detroit (32-19) is 10 games worse than last season's 42-9 mark at the break, but it's still good enough for the best record in the East. The Pistons, who have reached the conference finals four straight seasons, won their first five games after the break last season en route to a league-best 64 victories.
Last year, Detroit failed to reach the NBA finals for the third straight season when it fell to Miami. The Pistons are in position for a similar run after they were expected to take a bit of a step back this season without four-time Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace, who left for Chicago.
Since All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups returned after missing eight games with a calf injury, the Pistons are 11-4. They had a seven-game winning streak snapped with a 90-81 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.
Billups had 19 points and seven assists for Detroit, which fell behind by 17 points at halftime. The Pistons shot just 4-for-17 while getting outscored 26-15 in the second quarter.
"It's always tough to play the last game before the break," Billups said. "They came in hungry, because they've been struggling a bit. By the time we started fighting, it was an uphill battle."
The break may have come at a good time for Billups, who averaged only 12.5 points while shooting under 40 percent in his last four games. He's averaging 17.7 points and 7.6 assists, slightly below his career-high averages of 18.5 and 8.6 from last season.
The Pistons lost five of eight games without Billups this season, but that's mostly been the extent of their health problems. The same can't be said of the Bucks.
Milwaukee (19-34) owns the third-worst record in the East and has been without leading scorers Michael Redd (knee) and Mo Williams (shoulder), Dan Gadzuric (shoulder), Charlie Villanueva (ankle) and Bobby Simmons (ankle) for key stretches.
While Simmons is out for the season, the loss of Redd has been difficult to overcome. The Bucks have dropped 17 of 20 games since Redd last saw action on Jan. 5 against Cleveland.
Redd, who averages 27.7 points, is expected to return this week.
Villanueva is expected to return Tuesday after missing one game and guard Earl Boykins should also be able to play after he suffered a cut on his right leg that forced him out of the Bucks' last game before the break.
Perhaps the lowest point of Milwaukee's season came in that contest. One night after nearly beating league-leading Dallas, the Bucks fell 117-97 at Boston on Wednesday as the Celtics broke their franchise-record 18-game losing streak.
"You don't want to be the team that they beat," Williams said. "That's why it hurts a little more."
The losing has created speculation about the future of coach Terry Stotts, who guided the team to a 40-42 mark last season and the eighth seed in the East. The Bucks fell to the Pistons in five games in the playoffs.
One of the few bright spots for Milwaukee has been second-year center Andrew Bogut, who's averaging 11.9 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. Bogut took part in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star weekend and had six points and six rebounds for the victorious sophomores.
Detroit and Milwaukee have split their first two meetings this season.
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