Pair of Aces

Billups, Hamilton to represent Pistons at All-Star game

It’s not a full house this year, but the Pistons are sending a pair of aces to Las Vegas. Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton will represent the Central Division leaders at the All-Star game as members of the East team. The announcement was made Thursday night on TNT prior to its nationally televised doubleheader.

Only eight of the 15 Eastern Conference teams were represented, the Pistons being one of four teams to have two players make the 12-man roster. Also named as reserves were guards Jason Kidd and Vince Carter of New Jersey, forwards Caron Butler of Washington and Jermaine O’Neal of Indiana and center Dwight Howard of Orlando.

“I’m so happy that Rip made it,” said Billups, who arrived in Detroit along with Hamilton prior to the 2002-03 season. “He’s having a career year and he’s definitely deserving. There would have been a piece of me that would have been very, very disappointed that he didn’t make it, as well. I always feel we’re a package deal. We came here together and talked about how we were going to do this, we were going to do that. For one of us to make it and not the other, I would have been disappointed.”

The fact Billups was voted to the team by Eastern Conference coaches despite missing eight games tells him that he’s now achieved a certain status within the game.

“I think it solidifies it with everybody else, not me,” he said. “I always feel the same about me. I feel I’m one of the best and I prove that most times when I play. To the outside world I’m not a big, big superstar, but this proves that I’m moving up that ladder a little bit, that I could get a vote like that from the coaches. They play against me every single night. You would think they would know who’s an All-Star and who isn’t.”

The East starters, as voted by fans and announced a week ago, are Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, Washington’s Gilbert Arenas, Chris Bosh of Toronto and Cleveland’s LeBron James.

Billups and Hamilton both made their first All-Star appearance a year ago, when Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace also represented the Pistons and Flip Saunders coached the East. Billups scored 15 points and dished out seven assists in 16 minutes while Hamilton had six points in 13 minutes.

“It’ll be different for me this year,” Billups said. “Last year was my first year and I was running every day, all day. I never had a dull moment and I was soaking everything in. It’ll be more relaxing this time around.”

Hamilton leads the Pistons and is 17th in the NBA in scoring at 22.7 points a game, shooting 46 percent. Billups remains among the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio at 7.6 to 2.1 and is averaging 18.1 points a game while shooting 39 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

In fan voting, Billups finished fifth among Eastern Conference guards behind Wade, Arenas, Carter and Kidd, with Hamilton finishing 10th. Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince were sixth and eighth among forwards.

Billups said if the Pistons hadn’t been so inconsistent over the season’s first half, Prince probably would have been voted to the team, as well.

“People probably think I’m biased, but if you look around the Eastern Conference, you can’t show me three or four better forwards than Tayshaun Prince,” Billups said. “I feel that. I play with him every single night, so I know what he can do. I know there’s just not very many guys better than him. Yeah, our record and how up and down we’ve been cost Tayshaun.”

The most notable absence for the East team was Atlanta’s Joe Johnson, 11th in scoring at 25.3 points a game. Two probably All-Stars, Boston’s Paul Pierce and Milwaukee’s Michael Redd, are both injured and would not have been available to play.

Three Phoenix Suns – Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – lead the reserves for the West team, which surprisingly includes only Dirk Nowitzki from the Dallas Mavericks despite their NBA-best 38-9 record heading into Thursday night’s games.

Rounding out the Western reserves are San Antonio’s Tony Parker, Denver’s Allen Iverson and Utah’s Carlos Boozer. Voted in as West starters were Houston’s Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The league will have to choose two more players from the West to replace Yao and Boozer, both injured.

The All-Star game will be played at 8 p.m. Feb. 18.