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Detroit claims first division title in 12 years

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- Jerry Stackhouse knows his
Detroit Pistons are capable of winning more than a division
championship.

Monday, though, taking that first step was cause for a party.

Stackhouse had 18 points and 12 assists, one short of a career
high, as the Pistons clinched their first Central Division title
since the 1989-90 NBA championship team by beating the Atlanta
Hawks 105-99 Monday night.

"This is just an unbelievable feeling," Stackhouse said. "We
came from nowhere last year to win a division title. There are a
lot of players who have never done that."

Even with Stackhouse's effort, the night belonged to Zeljko
Rebraca, who had career highs with 18 points, 13 rebounds and seven
blocks. The Yugoslav rookie replaced injured the Ben Wallace -- who
leads the league in blocks and rebounds -- and helped Detroit pull
to two games of New Jersey for the best record in the Eastern
Conference.

"This was a great opportunity for me, and I wanted to play my
best game," he said. "I told Ben before the game that I had to do
his job, and that's what I did. Now we are the champs."

Chucky Atkins led the Pistons with 20 points, and Cliff Robinson
added 19.

"We can celebrate tonight, because this is a tremendous
achievement that no one expected these guys to do," said Pistons
coach Rick Carlisle. "Tomorrow, we'll start thinking about the
Chicago game on Wednesday and about catching New Jersey. The first
priority is to get Ben healthy."

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who scored 50 points against the Pistons
earlier in the season, led Atlanta with 23, while Jason Terry added
22.

"We had plenty of opportunities to take the ballgame," Terry
said. "When you are playing the best team in the East, you want to
take advantage of Ben Wallace not being in the game, but Rebraca
really stepped his game up. You go in against him, and you don't
think he can jump, but he still blocks the shot."

The Pistons trailed by as many as nine points in the first
quarter, but came back to take a 54-50 lead at intermission.

The teams traded the lead in the third, but five consecutive points
from Atkins helped the Pistons take a 77-72 edge into the final
period.

The Hawks pulled to 80-78 on Hanno Mottola's two free throws
with 9:26 to play. The Pistons, though, answered with a 10-1 run
that included four points from Corliss Williamson and Jon Barry's
3-pointer.

That gave Detroit a 10-point edge, and although some missed free
throws let Atlanta get close in the final minute, the Pistons were
able to hang on.

"We just needed to fight them off a little longer than we
did," Hawks coach Lon Kruger said. "But they made a run at us and
we couldn't fight it off long enough."

After the final buzzer, the celebration began, with streamers
falling from the Palace ceiling and Europe's "Final Countdown,"
the Bad Boys theme song, on the sound system. The players donned
championship T-shirts and Stackhouse found a microphone to thank
the fans.

"We really wanted to do it tonight, so that the fans could
share this with us," he said. "Atlanta came in here to spoil our
party, but we wouldn't let them do it."

Game notes
Barry wrenched his back in the final seconds of the first
half, but returned in the fourth quarter. ... Carlisle needs three
victories in the final five games to break Chuck Daly's team record of
50 by a first-year coach. ... Kruger is 1-7 as a coach against
Detroit. ... The previous three Detroit division champs (1988-1990)
all went to the NBA finals. ... Atlanta's Alan Henderson missed the
game with a sore knee. ... Rebraca had the first double-double of
his career.

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