Detroit 101, Seattle 97

SEATTLE, March 13 (AP) -- Hitting the road was the perfect remedy for the Detroit Pistons. They are rediscovering their swagger with the playoffs a little more than a month away, and Chris Webber is rapidly developing into an offensive threat again.

Webber scored 24 points, his best offensive night since joining Detroit, and the Pistons held off a late rally for a 101-97 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics on Tuesday night.

Detroit improved to 3-0 on its five-game West Coast road swing and remained two games up on Cleveland for the Central Division lead and best record in the Eastern Conference.

"He's C-Webb again,'' Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said. "He's back to being his old self.''

And that's just what Flip Saunders wants to see. After the Pistons dropped consecutive home games to Golden State and Cleveland, Saunders sensed his players were down.

"I thought the best thing for us was to go on the road to re-establish our identity and how we're going to play,'' he said.

Webber posted some strong games since his January acquisition. But it's the last four in which Webber is finding the consistency. He's averaging nearly 21 points and 10 rebounds in those four games, and on Tuesday, the Pistons went exclusively to Webber when Seattle made its charge midway through the fourth quarter.

Seeing a 12-point lead trimmed to 90-87, the Pistons called on Webber on three straight possessions. The first time, he hit a quick jump hook in the lane. On the next trip, Webber was fouled an converted one of two free throws.

The last time down, Webber scored on a 4-foot hook as the shot clock buzzer went off. That gave the Pistons a 95-92 lead.

"I wanted to be aggressive. I told them I wanted to be aggressive and they trusted me a got me the ball and it's a good feeling,'' Webber said.

Even with Webber's five-point flurry, it took a key 3-pointer from Billups to finally hold off Ray Allen. Allen's fifth 3-pointer of the game, with 1:56 left, got Seattle to 96-95, but Billups calmly answered with his first basket in nearly 17 minutes.

After a pair of free throws by Allen, the teams traded misses. Seattle got one final opportunity. Allen worked the clock down and dribbled through traffic, but missed a tough, rainbow fallaway 12-footer with Rasheed Wallace's hand in his face. Richard Hamilton grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 5.2 seconds left, hitting both free throws for the final margin.

"I thought it was a shot I could make. It looked like it was going to go in,'' Allen said. "That's disappointing because when I have those opportunities, I let the team down.''

Allen led Seattle with 27 points, but the All-Star struggled to find open looks against the aggressive defense of Hamilton and Billups. Allen shot just 7-of-24 and had six of Seattle's 21 turnovers. Those turnovers offset 11 3-pointers made by the Sonics.

Detroit tried to pull away and nearly turned the contest into a rout early in the fourth.

Leading 73-71 entering the final quarter, Detroit scored seven points in a little more than a minute to push its lead to 86-74. Hamilton made up for a turnover by stripping Seattle's Damien Wilkins in the open court, then finding Antonio McDyess under the basket for a layup while being fouled.

Seattle coach Bob Hill leaped off the bench in disgust about a foul not being called on Hamilton and was accessed a quick technical. Prince then knocked down a pair of jumpers, giving Detroit its largest lead at 12.

"I don't understand how other teams get the calls,'' Hill said. "It's getting a little old.''

Allen suddenly found a little space, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and the Sonics chipped away, pulling within three on Chris Wilcox's short one-handed jumper with 4:51 left. Wilcox added 21 points for Seattle, 17 in the first half. Wilcox hit his first four shots and was 8-of-10 in the first half.

Rashard Lewis finished with 13 points and became Seattle's career leader in 3-pointers made. Lewis passed Gary Payton with his 918th 3-pointer as a Sonic with 7:37 left in the first quarter.

Seattle made 11 of 22 3-point attempts, but couldn't make up for 21 turnovers.

Notes: The teams combined to make their first nine shots and 11 of the first 13 attempted. ... Seattle G Luke Ridnour missed his fifth straight game with an aggravated disc in his neck. Ridnour is expected to practice Thursday and Friday and play on Saturday when Seattle hosts Golden State. ... Seattle had its five-game home winning streak snapped.

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