Raptors 89, Pistons 82 (F)

TORONTO, March 26 (AP) A new-look starting five did the job for the struggling Toronto Raptors.

Chris Bosh scored 21 points and T.J. Ford had 13 points and nine assists in his return to the starting lineup as the Raptors beat the Detroit Pistons 89-82 on Wednesday night.

Bosh said Ford was "more comfortable" as a starter.

"It was business as usual," Bosh said. "It was back to how we're used to playing."

Rasho Nesterovic had 15 points and Jose Calderon 13 as Toronto won for just the fourth time in 15 games. The Raptors avoided falling below .500 for the first time since a loss at Cleveland on Nov. 24 dropped them to 6-7.

"It's only one game, but it gives us a different sense of confidence," Nesterovic said.

Toronto coach Sam Mitchell called it "a great win."

"Our defense for 48 minutes was as good as it could have been," Mitchell said.

Trying to change his luck after a slide that saw the Raptors drop from fifth to seventh in the Eastern Conference, Mitchell put Ford and Nesterovic into the starting lineup in place of Calderon and Andrea Bargnani.

Ford started slowly, scoring just two points in the first half, but teamed up with Jamario Moon for two spectacular baskets in the third, feeding the athletic Moon for a dunk and then a one-handed alley-oop.

Ford's last start came Dec. 11 at Atlanta, but he was injured that night and missed the next 24 games. He had served as Calderon's backup since returning Feb. 4 at Miami.

Calderon, who volunteered to give up his starting spot, was happy to see Ford succeed.

"Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself for the team," Calderon said. "I think that was best for the Toronto Raptors and it worked."

Bosh saluted Calderon for surrendering his starting role.

"That's big for us. We need more guys like that," Bosh said. "Both him and T.J. have been very unselfish with their starting position and they want what's best for the team."

Ford and Calderon were on the court together as Toronto held off Detroit charge in the final minutes.

"It worked out great for us in a stretch where we both were playing well," Ford said. "Whenever you have both of us on the court, it's a big factor because I'm more of a penetrator and with his shooting ability, he's a big threat. It worked out in our favor."

Chauncey Billups scored 24 points, and Rodney Stuckey tied a career high with 16, including 14 in the fourth.

"We're coming down the home stretch now, 11 games left," Billups said. "You want to start playing with some consistency."

Cleveland's loss to New Orleans guarantees Detroit at least a tie for the Central Division title, but Billups wasn't interested.

"Our thing is not the division or the East," Billups said. "Our thing is the whole thing. That's the way we think."

Detroit, which has lost three of four, made 15 turnovers, leaving coach Flip Saunders fuming.

"If we turn the ball over 15 times, we're not going to beat anybody," Saunders said. "We were able to make some runs and cut it down, but they continued to make some plays every time we got close."

The Pistons were without leading scorer Richard Hamilton (sore left hip) for the second consecutive game. Hamilton, who is averaging 17.7 points, was replaced by Arron Afflalo.

"With Rip out once again, we needed to provide a spark somewhere, somehow," Tayshaun Prince said. "Nobody was really making too much progress throughout the game."

Ford and Bosh each had eight points in the third as Toronto took a 59-51 lead into the final quarter.

Bargnani's 3-pointer capped a 7-0 run to start the fourth, giving the Raptors a 68-51 edge and forcing the Pistons to call timeout.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Prince and Billups cut it to 72-63 at 7:04, but Toronto answered with consecutive 3s by Calderon and Ford to open an 80-67 lead with 4:09 remaining.

A dunk by Amir Johnson and two more 3-pointers by Billups made it 80-75, but Bosh made two baskets and Nesterovic drained a free throw as Toronto pushed the lead back to eight.

Notes: The Raptors finished with 12 turnovers. ... Detroit guard Juan Dixon (sore left calf) was not in uniform. ... Toronto had lost 10 of its previous 13 against Detroit. ... The Pistons host the Cavaliers on Saturday night.

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