EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Ironically, playing well on the
road has given the Detroit Pistons the homecourt advantage for at
least two rounds of the playoffs.
Chucky Atkins scored 21 points and the Pistons clinched the
second-best record in the Eastern Conference with a 103-98 win over
the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night.
"It's very important for the playoffs to have your crowd behind
you," said Ben Wallace, who had 14 points, 16 rebounds and six
blocked shots. "They're there for you when you need that extra
energy. They're screaming for you and you feed off the crowd."
The Pistons also have shown they can win without that.
In beating the Nets for the third time in four meetings, the
Pistons posted their fifth straight road win and 18th in 21 games.
"That's a plus going into the playoffs, knowing that you can go
out on the road and win," Wallace added.
In a game in which Jerry Stackhouse hit one basket and scored 11
points, Detroit had a lot of players step up, particularly in the
Atkins had 16 points in the final half. Jon Barry had 12 of his
17 and Corliss Williamson had eight of his 14 points in the final
Kerry Kittles, who has struggled in recent weeks, scored a
season-high 30 points after being challenged by coach Byron Scott.
"Any time you can gain a player's confidence going into the
playoffs, sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture," Nets
point guard Jason Kidd said of the performance. "Yes, you want to
win every game, but getting Kerry focused and ready and
understanding how important he is to this team, that's what we need
from him if we want to make a run."
Kidd had 11 assists in setting a Nets' single-season record
(803), breaking the mark of 801 set by Kevin Porter in 1977-78.
Detroit, which was already the No. 2 seed in the conference as
the Central Division champion, needed this victory to clinch the
homecourt edge in later rounds should it advance. Victory No. 49
guaranteed that the Boston Celtics cannot catch the Pistons.
First-round playoff opponents for the Nets and Pistons are still
up in the air. Indiana, Toronto and Milwaukee are all tied for the
final two spots heading into Wednesday night's season finales.
The Pistons, who fell behind by 10 points midway through the
third quarter, took the lead for good with a 19-2 spurt that Atkins
ignited with a pair of 3-pointers.
"Chucky has been shooting the ball extremely well the past
three or four weeks," Barry said. "We moved the ball and got open
shots and we've got very capable shooters."
Barry also contributed two fast-break baskets and two assists,
including one on a 3-pointer by Damon Jones early in the final
Detroit led 91-81 late in the fourth quarter but Kittles hit a
pair of 3-pointers to help Nets get to 91-89 with 2:34 to go.
Atkins and Barry then nailed 3-pointers to push the lead to
A 3-pointer by Kidd closed the gap to 99-96 with 26.7 seconds to
play, but Atkins scored four straight points to wrap up the game.
Kittles scored nine points in a 20-9 spurt that gave the Nets
their biggest lead -- 65-55 midway through the third quarter.
Nets forward Kenyon Martin missed the game to attend the funeral
in Dallas of a close family friend.
^Notes:@ When Nets coach Byron Scott wants rookie Brian Scalabrine
to come off the bench, he yells "Veal." ... Nets starting center
Todd MacCulloch (foot) is spending the final three games of the
season on the injured list ... Pistons coach Rick Carlisle tied a
Pistons' record for a rookie coach with his 49th win. Chuck Daly
set the old mark in 1983-84. ... Only the Pistons and Celtics beat
the Nets twice at the Continental Airlines Arena this season, where
New Jersey was 33-8 ... Detroit's 37-16 record against Eastern
Conference teams is the best among conference teams.