PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; Pistons lead 3-1.
The Detroit Pistons know better than most teams that a 3-1 series lead certainly isn’t safe.
With that in mind, Detroit will try to put the Milwaukee Bucks away early as they play Game 5 of their best-of-7 first-round playoff series.
The Pistons became just the seventh NBA team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit last season, rallying to beat the Orland Magic.
“We’ve been there before. We know you can come back from 3-1,” Detroit center Ben Wallace said. “We just have to stay focused and stay on this team. We can’t afford to go out and look for the knockout blow early.”
Detroit, the first team to lose a postseason game at home this season, won its second straight road contest with a 109-92 rout Monday in Milwaukee.
While the Pistons are still playing, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference are relaxing: the top-seeded Indiana Pacers swept the Boston Celtics, and the Atlantic Division champion New Jersey Nets got past the New York Knicks in four games.
Detroit coach Larry Brown said it would be a boost for the Pistons to end the series in Game 5 because several of his players have nagging injuries, including Rasheed Wallace (sore left arch).
“I think it would really help us considering that New Jersey has a lot of time to rest and recover from any bangs and bruises they may have,” Brown said of his potential conference semifinal opponents. “We have a lot of guys hurt.
“If we can do a good job Thursday, it will not only give you time to prepare for the next opponent, it will give you time to get guys some time. It would be huge.”
Bucks guard Michael Redd hopes his teammates can fight their way back into the series.
“I’m going to have a meeting with the team to make sure we go hard,” Redd said. “We can’t be soft because it’s do-or-die. It’s been done before, so why not us?”
Milwaukee will have a tough time against a Pistons team that continues to play strong defense. Detroit is holding Milwaukee to 87.7 points per game in the series.
Bucks coach Terry Porter wanted to get both his offense and Keith Van Horn going by getting him back into the starting lineup Monday. The benching power forward Brian Skinner to get Van Horn back in the starting lineup backfired, however.
Van Horn, who doesn’t have the size to be the kind of defender Skinner is, scored just 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting and had three turnovers. Coming off the bench because of injuries since late March, Van Horn averaged just six points as a sub in the first three games of this series.
Milwaukee’s top two scorers in the postseason, Redd and Desmond Mason, combined to miss 23 of 31 shots, and the Bucks turned the ball over 16 times, leading to 28 points.
Porter was disappointed the Bucks lost both home games against Detroit, but noted that they also struggled on their home court toward the end of the regular season.
“Maybe it’s a good thing Game 5 is on the road,” Porter said.
If the Bucks win, Game 6 will be in Milwaukee on Saturday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Bucks - 6th seed. Pistons - 3rd seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Bucks - Redd, 17 ppg; Smith, 10.5 rpg; Jones, 7.8 apg. Pistons - Hamilton, 20.8 ppg; Ben Wallace, 13.8 rpg; Billups, 7.5 apg.