It didn’t take long for the Detroit Pistons to have their void in the middle exploited.
The Pistons hope to end a four-game losing streak and grab a share of the top spot in the Eastern Conference when they take on the visiting Chicago Bulls.
Detroit played its first game without injured All-Star center Ben Wallace on Tuesday, only to get dominated down low in a 91-74 loss to Philadelphia.
The loss dropped Detroit one full game behind New Jersey in the race for first place in the conference. The Pistons still lead Indiana by 1 1/2 games atop the Central Division with one game in hand.
The Pistons, who were accustomed to Wallace’s league-leading 15.4 rebounds per game, were beaten badly on the boards, 42-27. Wallace’s replacement, 6-foot-11 Mehmet Okur, had eight points and nine boards in 37 minutes.
“We just weren’t able to keep them out of the paint,” Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’d like to say it was because Ben wasn’t in there, but we can’t use that as an excuse. If you give up 52 points in the paint, you’re not going to win. It’s as simple as that.”
Aside from starting Okur, the Pistons were hoping to get a boost in the paint from the return of 7-footer Zeljko Rebraca, who had been sidelined since Jan. 6 with an irregular heartbeat. However, the big man had just eight points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.
The Bulls, who are suffering through another tough season, have split their last 10, including a surprising 115-103 win over Indiana on Tuesday.
Tyson Chandler had five points and three rebounds in the first half before sitting out the second half and is expected to miss Wednesday’s game after a recurrence of an inflamed esophagus.
He did not travel to Detroit for Wednesday’s game, and will likely miss Friday and Sunday’s games. But he said he hopes to play in the season finale next Tuesday.
STANDINGS: Bulls - 6th place, 19 1/2 GB, Central Division. Pistons - 1st place, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bulls - Rose, 22.2 ppg and 4.9 apg; Marshall, 9.0 rpg. Pistons - Hamilton, 19.9 ppg; Wallace, 15.4 rpg; Billups, 3.8 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Pistons, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: March 23; Pistons, 105-82. At Detroit, Wallace finished with 20 rebounds, seven points, five blocks and four steals, and Hamilton had a team-high 26 points for the Pistons. Curry paced the Bulls with 18 points.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bulls - 3-36 on the road; Pistons - 28-11 at home.
INJURIES: Bulls - F Chandler (esophagus); F Marcus Fizer (knee); G Fred Hoiberg (Achilles’); C Dalibor Bagaric (ankle). Pistons - C Wallace (knee); G Pepe Sanchez (knee); F Don Reid (Achilles’); C Danny Manning (back).