Detroit ensured itself of a better record than the eventual
Atlantic Division winner, and can take the East's second seed by
winning its third Central Division title in four years. Its magic
number is three.
In the Pistons' locker room, opinions differed on the coming
matchup with the Heat -- who already have clinched the No. 1 seed in
"Just another game," said a dismissive Ben Wallace, who had 12
points, nine rebounds and four blocks. "Cannot win the
championship on Sunday. Cannot. No way possible."
"It's going to be a game everybody wants to watch," Richard
Hamilton said. "It's going to be a dogfight."
Rasheed Wallace (22 points) said he had different priorities:
"I'm excited about South Beach!"
Meanwhile, the Magic not only are against the brink of playoff
elimination, but they learned before the game that Grant Hill won't
be part of any possible comeback.
Hill will miss the rest of the season because of a sore left
shin. He had experienced pain off and on since being kicked almost
six weeks ago. A CT scan showed no damage to the ankle that kept
him on the bench for almost all of the previous four seasons.
Orlando has lost four of five, and is 3½ games behind Cleveland
in the race for the East's eighth and last postseason berth. The
Cavaliers, who lost to Philadelphia 103-98, visit Orlando on
"I know we're still in it," Dwight Howard said. "I know if we
keep putting forth the effort that we're doing, we're going to find
ourselves in the playoffs."
DeShawn Stevenson scored 15 of his 25 points in the fourth
quarter for the Magic. He made four 3-pointers, after hitting just
eight all season. Steve Francis had 23 points and nine assists, and
Howard added 21 points and 13 rebounds.
Detroit pulled away late in the third quarter. Billups' three
3-pointers highlighted a 25-8 surge to put the Pistons up by 17
entering the final period.
The Pistons shot 55 percent, and went 7 for 10 on 3-pointers,
and made eight straight shots in the fourth quarter to keep Orlando
Also, Detroit's 31 assists were two shy of a season best.
Hamilton had eight assists to go with his 13 points and a
career-high 11 rebounds.
"He's the 'Little O," said Detroit coach Larry Brown,
comparing Hamilton to "The Big O" -- Hall of Famer Oscar
It appeared the Pistons would run away early, scoring 13
unanswered points for a 25-12 lead. But Orlando slowly battled
back, tying the game at 40 with 4:30 remaining in the first half.
Detroit held a 51-45 lead at the break.
Because the Magic had the maximum three players on the
injured list, the team received an injury exception from the league
to allow guard Mark Jones to join Orlando's roster. He had one
point and three rebounds. ... Kelvin Cato started as Orlando's
center for the first time in four games. ... When Pistons reserve
point guard Carlos Arroyo checked in late in the first quarter, he
was met with a round of appreciative applause and whistles. Arroyo
hails from Puerto Rico, and Orlando is home to one of the nation's
largest Puerto Rican communities. ... Billups was cut on his right
cheek in the first quarter, and the rest of the game wore a bandage
over five stitches. ... The game was a sellout, Orlando's seventh
of the season.