Rip, Prince lead the way with 19 apiece

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- The Detroit Pistons are thrilled that
few experts, if any, believe they'll repeat as NBA champions.

Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince each scored 19 points to
help the Pistons beat New York 97-88 on Tuesday night for their
fifth straight victory and 10th in 11 games.

"There's no pressure on us," said Rasheed Wallace, who had 12
points, eight rebounds and four blocks. "Most of the sports shows,
outside of Michigan, they've got somebody else winning. It's funny,
though. We'll see.

"When it comes down to it, we'll smack 'em in the mouth with
the trophy again."

Since the Pistons fell to .500 on Dec. 22, they are 21-7 and
have surged 2½ games ahead of Cleveland in the Central Division.

"It's like a heavyweight fight. In the beginning, that's when
we were sluggish," Wallace said. "As you get later in the fight,
like later in season, the cream is going to rise to the top."

Why does he think Detroit is overlooked when analysts look
toward the playoffs, which start in two months?

"We don't have stars. We play with a team concept," Wallace
said. "In the NBA, they want stars and a more individual game."

Jamal Crawford had 23 points for the Knicks, who fell to 5-20 in

"Right now, we're just not that good," said Stephon Marbury,
who was held to 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

The Pistons were in command throughout and pulled away with a
13-5 run to open the second half, giving them a 64-47 lead.

Antonio McDyess scored the first five points of the fourth
quarter to give the Pistons another 17-point lead, and they coasted
the rest of the way to extend their home winning streak to a
season-best seven games.

"We have to start games the right way," said New York's Tim
Thomas, who scored 15 points. "The Pistons were in control from
the opening tip. We can't do that, especially on the road."

Detroit's Chauncey Billups scored 15 points and had eight
assists, Carlos Arroyo had 13 points and McDyess added nine points
and eight rebounds.

Kurt Thomas had 15 points and 17 rebounds for the Knicks and
reserve Trevor Ariza scored 14.

"They got all the calls," said Tim Thomas, who had five fouls.
"(The refs) took me out of the rhythm of the game. It's
frustrating when calls aren't going your way."

The flu kept Larry Brown from coaching the Pistons.

Assistant coach Gar Heard filled in for Brown as he did after
Brown had hip surgery in November. Brown became ill in the Bahamas
during the All-Star break. He was at the arena Tuesday night, but
said it would be a game-time decision whether he would stay.

A sequence early in the third quarter was the latest example of
how the defending champions are starting to play like they did last

After Prince scored on an alley-oop dunk off a pass from
Billups, the Pistons blocked two shots on the ensuing possession,
the second one leading to Billups' fast-break layup.

"Those were a couple plays that got a lot of life in the
building, and life in us," Billups said.

Billups enjoys hearing other teams mentioned as favorites to win
the title.

"I love being under the radar, just like it was last year," he
said. "We feel like we're the best team out there."

Game notes
Detroit swept the season series against the Knicks for the
first time since 1989-90 and third time in franchise history. ...
The Pistons will play their next six games on the road, while New
York will play seven of its next eight at home. ... Detroit rookie
Carlos Delfino (right knee) practiced Monday for the first time in
two months. He's expected to play on the road trip.