Detroit 87, Cleveland 82

AUBURN HILLS, Mich., April 8 (AP) -- LeBron James almost single-handedly beat the Detroit Pistons a month ago.

The Pistons didn't give him a chance Sunday.

Detroit's `D' forced James to defer to teammates and that strategy helped the Pistons defeat the Cavaliers 87-82 to move one step closer to earning home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

"We know he can beat us,'' Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups said. "We want to make them beat us.''

Unlike in the previous meeting, James was held in check.

He had 20 points on 5-of-16 shooting, six assists, five turnovers and five rebounds.

James missed two free throws with 37.4 seconds left, trailing by four, then the Cavaliers allowed about 20 seconds to run off the clock before fouling.

He scored a season-high 41 on March 7, lifting Cleveland to a 101-97 overtime victory at The Palace, by making a lot of spectacular baskets close to the rim late in the game.

"The last game, we left Tay (Prince) on an island,'' Pistons shooting guard Richard Hamilton said.

On Sunday, the Pistons double-teamed James with a post player, forcing him to pass from the perimeter.

"At times, we did a great job of reacting to the double-team and at times we didn't,'' James said. "That's a great team, and you can't have any lapses on defense or on offense.''

When James tried to create his own shot in the lane, he was fouled hard.

"They are very physical and they are a veteran team, so they are able to get away with a lot that other teams can't,'' Cavs coach Mike Brown said. "They've learned how to play that part of the game.''

Hamilton scored 21 points, Billups had 14 points and 12 assists - helping Detroit have six double-digit scorers - and Antonio McDyess added 18 points, a season-high 13 rebounds and three blocks.

The Pistons have won four of five to maintain their cushion over Chicago and Cleveland - which has lost seven of 12 - for the best record in the conference.

"We have to try to get it as quick as possible because it'll be a weight lifted off our shoulders,'' McDyess said.

Detroit led by 10 early in the fourth quarter, then had to hold off the charging Cavs late.

Billups made a pair of go-ahead free throws with 1:29 left, then assisted on McDyess' dunk on Detroit's next possession.

"If you play well, and you lose the ballgame, you can be satisfied,'' said James, who made all nine of his free throws before missing two in the final minute. "We gave ourselves a chance to win against Miami, and we gave ourselves a chance tonight. That's what you look at.''

Besides altering Detroit's defense against James, another decision made by Detroit coach Flip Saunders worked.

McDyess started ahead of Rasheed Wallace, whose playing time Saunders said he wants to limit because of a hyperextended finger on his left (non-shooting) hand.

"I tried to be aggressive and it worked to my advantage,'' McDyess said.

Wallace scored the first four points of the fourth quarter after being held scoreless and finished with 10 points.

"I didn't miss no practice so I don't know what it was for,'' he said. "Y'all gotta ask Flip. ... I was out there. I'm cooler than a fan.''

Prince scored 12 points and Chris Webber added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons.

Even though James had a lackluster game, his supporting cast gave the Cavs a shot to win until struggling down the stretch.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 15 points, Sasha Pavlovic scored 11 of his 14 in the first half, Larry Hughes finished with 12 and Drew Gooden added 10 points and 12 rebounds.

"We had too many mistakes - mental errors and turnovers,'' Brown said. "We had breakdowns throughout the game. In the last couple minutes, they did a nice job of executing and we didn't. You can't give away points and opportunities in this league.''

Notes: The Pistons won the season series 3-1 with Sunday's win and two victories by an average of 14 at Cleveland. ... Hamilton bounced back after scoring a season-low three and being ejected in his previous game.

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