Atkins steps in to steer Pistons past Hornets


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- With Chauncey Billups serving a suspension and Pepe Sanchez on the injured list, Chucky Atkins knew he was Detroit's only option at point guard.

Atkins, a starter last season, scored 20 points Tuesday night, helping the Pistons beat the New Orleans Hornets 93-87.

"I knew that with Chauncey out, I was going to have to play some big minutes,'' he said. "I was able to relax, and even after I missed some shots early, I was able to get into the flow.''

Billups was penalized for throwing the ball at an official Saturday during a loss at Dallas.

"I can't say enough about the way Chucky Atkins played,'' Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. "He got himself into great shape over the summer, and it showed tonight. Even late in the game, he was still making shots and playing great defense.''

Jon Barry scored 17 points for Detroit, while Richard Hamilton had 16 and Corliss Williamson added 12.

"This was a great team effort,'' Hamilton said. "Chucky hit
some huge shots and the defense really meshed well with our
offense. We were able to make things happen at both ends.''

Jamal Mashburn scored 17 for New Orleans, but only four after
the first quarter. Baron Davis had 13 and Jamaal Magliore 12.

"This was a statement game, and it is definitely worse to lose like this to the Pistons,'' Davis said. "We'll look back on this one and say we let it slip through our fingers because we didn't meet the challenge.''

New Orleans led 29-20 at the end of the first quarter, but Barry
scored 10 points in the second as Detroit closed to 45-43 at
halftime. Mashburn led New Orleans with 15 in the half while
Hamilton had 14.

The Pistons broke open the game with a dominating third quarter.
Detroit outscored New Orleans 24-11 in the period, and held the
Hornets to three field goals, including two in the final five
seconds. The Hornets missed 15 of their first 16 field-goal
attempts in the quarter.

"When you only score 11 points in a quarter, you have to give
their defense some credit,'' New Orleans coach Paul Silas said.
"We did rush a lot -- maybe we were looking at their shot blockers
and not really finishing.''

Zeljko Rebraca had only one point less than New Orleans team in
the quarter, including six during a 12-0 run midway through the
period. That run put the Pistons up 65-49, and the margin was 67-56
at period's end.

"Z is a man with pride, and he's been struggling,'' Carlisle said. "He got two quick fouls in the first quarter, but I expected him to come out with a big effort after halftime, and by god, he was huge on both ends of the floor.''

New Orleans pulled to 69-60 early in the fourth. The Pistons
answered with a 9-2 run capped by consecutive 3-pointers from Barry
and Atkins.

The Hornets closed to 91-85 with 45 seconds left, and Barry gave
them more life when he missed two free throws. Barry hit 93.1
percent of his free throws last season, a Pistons record.

Robert Traylor cut the lead to four with a layup, but Barry made
a pair of free throws and Ben Wallace blocked a Courtney Alexander
3-point attempt to finally put away the game.

"This is disappointing, because we were playing a division
opponent,'' David Wesley said. "Plus we got off to such a good
start and weren't able to sustain it for 48 minutes.''

Game notes
Tuesday was the first time that the Pistons hosted a team
from New Orleans since they beat the Jazz 110-101 on March 3, 1979.
... Detroit didn't get a single point from the center or power
forward position until Cliff Robinson's free throw with 3:16 left
in the first half. ... New Orleans scored 29 points in the first
quarter, and only 27 in the next two combined. ... The Hornets have
lost four straight to Detroit. ... Davis was assessed a
fourth-quarter technical after fouling out.