Detroit (45-25) at Cleveland (31-37)

  • Game info: 4:00 pm EST Sun Mar 21, 2004
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Without a healthy LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have a tough time against the Detroit Pistons’ stifling defense.

The Cavaliers hope James is healthy enough to make a difference when they host the surging Pistons, who have won seven straight.

Cleveland also had won seven in a row before Friday’s 97-88 loss to the Utah Jazz. Bothered by a chest cold, James was held to 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting.

“I wasn’t able to breathe,” said James, who missed practice the two days before the game. “The energy that I usually have in my legs I just couldn’t get because I just didn’t have the energy.”

The Cavaliers have won the last two meetings against Detroit, and with a victory Sunday would take the season series for the first time in seven years. But they have not faced Detroit since the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace and raised their defensive play to a higher level.

Wallace scored 20 points, surpassing the 10,000-point mark for his career, as the Pistons beat the Denver Nuggets 94-75 on Friday. Detroit improved to 11-3 since trading for Wallace on Feb. 19.

“Detroit is playing as well as any team in the league right now,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “Rasheed Wallace has taken a very good team to a new level.”

Even though Wallace has helped offensively, the key for the Pistons has been their defense.

The Pistons have held opponents to 68.4 points per game over the last seven games, setting an NBA record by holding five straight to fewer than 70. Detroit holds teams to an NBA-low 84.7 points per game on the season.

“Hopefully, it’ll get better,” Wallace said. “Right now, we’re on a little streak, but we’ve got a lot of games left. When playoff time comes, we’ll get that surge of energy and we’ll just ride it out.”

Besides James’ cold, the Cavs also will monitor Jeff McInnis’ shoulder injury. The point guard missed Friday’s game and will be a game-time decision Sunday.

STANDINGS (through March 19): Pistons - 2nd place, 6 GB, Central Division. Cavaliers - 5th place, 19 GB, Central Division.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pistons - F Tayshaun Prince, F Rasheed Wallace, C Ben Wallace, G Richard Hamilton, G Chauncey Billups. Cavaliers - F Eric Williams, F Carlos Boozer, C Zydrunas Ilgauskas, G McInnis or Kevin Ollie, G James.

TEAM LEADERS: Pistons - Hamilton, 17.9 ppg; Ben Wallace, 12.9 rpg; Billups, 5.6 apg. Cavaliers - James, 20.7 ppg; Boozer, 11.4 rpg; McInnis, 6.0 apg.

SEASON SERIES: Cavaliers, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 3; Cavaliers, 85-82. At Detroit, Boozer, who finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds, made a pair of free throws with 8.9 seconds left to put the Cavs ahead for good.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pistons - 21-15 on the road; Cavaliers - 20-14 at home.

INJURIES: Pistons - F Tremaine Fowlkes (groin). Cavaliers - F Ruben Boumtje Boumtje (ankle); G Kedrick Brown (knee); G McInnis (shoulder).

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