Detroit posted an 80-72 win at Miami on Sunday to move into position to clinch the division. The Pistons were helped by the absence of All-Star Heat center Shaquille O’Neal, who missed his third straight game due to a stomach ailment.
With O’Neal out, Detroit was able to harass Miami star Dwyane Wade into 1-of-6 shooting for five points to end his streak of 51 consecutive games in double figures. Wade fouled out in 21 minutes as Miami was held to its lowest point total of the season.
“We went at him with five. We didn’t have just one guy guarding him,” Detroit guard Richard Hamilton said. “We did key on him, and did a good job with that.”
Detroit will not have to worry about facing Curry, who is Chicago’s leading scorer. The fourth-year center has missed seven straight games while being evaluated for an irregular heartbeat.
The Pistons have won 12 of their 13 visits to the United Center since Michael Jordan left the Bulls in 1998, including the last nine straight. They posted an 87-80 win in their first visit to Chicago on Jan. 3 in a game Curry missed with the flu.
Detroit outscored Chicago 42-14 in the paint during that meeting.
With Curry in the lineup, Chicago is 2-0 against Detroit this season.
The Bulls clinched their first playoff berth since Jordan’s departure with a 110-97 win over Toronto on Saturday. Chicago has won 12 of its last 13 overall, including a 6-1 mark without Curry.
It’s an amazing turnaround after six straight losing seasons and a 2-13 start to this season.
“I believed we were going to get better for sure, but I didn’t know it was going to get this good,” Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Reserve Tyson Chandler has helped pick up the slack in Curry’s absence, averaging 12.3 points and 14.9 rebounds over the last seven games with four double-doubles.
“I feel like this team’s really coming together,” Chandler said. “We’re playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”
With a playoff berth secure, Chicago can focus on locking up the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. The Bulls lead Indiana and Washington by three games with six to play.
Chicago also enters on a six-game home winning streak. The Bulls’ last home win against the Pistons was a 98-92 victory on Jan. 22, 2000.
STANDINGS (through April 10): Pistons - 1st place, Central Division. Bulls - 2nd place, 5 GB, Central Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Pistons - F Tayshaun Prince, F Rasheed Wallace, C Ben Wallace, G Hamilton, G Chauncey Billups. Bulls - F Andres Nocioni, F Antonio Davis, C Othella Harrington, G Hinrich, G Chris Duhon.
TEAM LEADERS: Pistons - Hamilton, 19.2 ppg; Ben Wallace, 12.1 rpg; Billups, 5.9 apg. Bulls - Curry, 16.1 ppg; Chandler, 9.7 rpg; Hinrich, 6.5 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Bulls, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 22; Bulls, 100-89. At Detroit, Hinrich had 24 points and nine assists as the Bulls scored 56 points in the second half to post their second win this season at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Billups, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace were all whistled for technical fouls in the fourth quarter for Detroit.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pistons - 20-18 on the road; Bulls - 25-13 at home.