Many called the last meeting between the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics a potential Eastern Conference finals preview. Less than three weeks later, such an outcome seems even more likely.
Neither team has lost since that game, and when they meet again at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday, the Celtics will be looking for their ninth straight win while the Pistons seek their 12th in a row.
Boston (28-3) and Detroit (26-7) have the NBA's two best records, with each boasting at least a 10-game lead in its respective division. Their combined 10 losses are three fewer than any other Eastern Conference team has on its own.
While the Celtics lead Detroit in the standings, the Pistons have beaten them nine straight times, including an 87-85 win at TD Banknorth Garden on Dec. 19 that remains Boston's lone home defeat. Chauncey Billups - whom the Celtics drafted in the first round in 1997 - had 28 points for Detroit and made a pair of free throws in the final second to break a tie.
"It was playoff-intense, pretty aggressive out there," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said after that game. "I would say, by far, it was the most aggressive game this season, with all five guys going against each other. It got a little bit chippy, so it was a little bit playoff-like atmosphere."
It was also the third game of Detroit's current 11-game winning streak. The Pistons have not won 12 in a row since a 13-game run during the 2003-04 season.
Richard Hamilton had 22 points, Rasheed Wallace added 20 and Billups scored 18 in the latest victory, a 101-85 win at Toronto on Friday. Hamilton has led the Pistons in scoring each of the last seven games, averaging 21.4 points in that span.
Detroit also held yet another opponent under 90 points, something they've done eight times during the streak. They've allowed an average of 84.1 points during the run.
"We're definitely satisfied with how we're playing right now," Billups said. "Who wouldn't be? Eleven straight games, that's an amazing feat in this league."
These are the two best defensive clubs in the NBA - the only two allowing fewer than 90 points per game. After beating Memphis 100-96 at home on Friday, the Celtics have held opponents under 100 for 14 consecutive games, and lead the NBA with just 87.3 points allowed per game.
"Boston's record speaks for itself," Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said. "They're a great defensive ballclub. They can clog up the paint and really keep you away from the basket. It'll be a good test for us once again."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers called his team's focus the "worst of the year" on Friday, but Boston held off the Grizzlies despite getting just two points from Ray Allen, who missed all nine of his field-goal attempts.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett each had 23 points while Tony Allen added a season-high 20 off the bench.
"Everybody knew we're playing Detroit on Saturday night, but we had to take care of Memphis," Pierce said. "We're preparing for something bigger than the regular season. It's got to be every night."
The Celtics, who have three winning streaks of at least eight games this season, are on the same pace through 31 games as the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who finished 72-10.
They've won eight straight on the road, but the Pistons have won seven in a row at home and the Celtics have lost their last seven in Detroit dating back to 2003.
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