Cleveland (40-39) at Detroit (52-27)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Auburn Hills, MI
Temp: 81° F
  • Game info: 1:00 pm EDT Sun Apr 17, 2005
  • TV: ABC
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Cleveland Cavaliers once had hopes of beating the Detroit Pistons for the Central Division title.

Now they would happily settle for a playoff series against the defending champions.

Vying for the one of the two remaining playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, the struggling Cavaliers try to avoid a third straight loss when they visit the surging Pistons.

Cleveland has lost five of seven and is just one game in front of the New Jersey Nets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

The best the Cavaliers can hope for now is a seventh-place finish in the East, which would mean a first-round series against the No. 2 seed Pistons. Cleveland was just behind Detroit in the division standings heading into the All-Star break, but has faded in the second half.

The Cavaliers suffered a potentially damaging loss Thursday night, falling 95-89 at home to the New York Knicks, who already are eliminated from postseason contention. The following night, they lost at Washington 119-111 despite a strong performance from LeBron James.

James played all 48 minutes and scored 38 points, but Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison combined to score 85 points for the Wizards.

“It’s hard to stop three guys who can get you 20 points every night,” James said. “I’m not disappointed. I’ll just keep my head high and just keep playing the basketball I’ve been playing.”

Reserve Robert Traylor had 14 points and 10 rebounds, but starting point guard Jeff McInnis shot 1-of-7 and had two turnovers with just three assists as Cleveland lost for the 15th time in its last 17 road games.

Starting forward Drew Gooden had 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting as the Cavaliers dropped one game behind seventh-place Philadelphia, which visits New Jersey on Sunday night. Gooden played much of the game with a hip injury, but is expected to be in the lineup against Detroit.

“We have to play basketball,” James said. “I’m going to say the same thing I’ve always said every time this happens: We just have to play good basketball and try to win ballgames.”

Although the Pistons can’t improve their playoff seed, they are the hottest team in the East. Ronald Dupree came off the injured list and scored a career-high 20 points, including five dunks, as the Pistons extended their winning streak to a season-high nine games with a 99-73 romp over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.

No starter played more than 30 minutes for Detroit, which got 62 points from its reserves.

“We did a good job tonight,” said guard Carlos Arroyo, who had six points and eight assists in 24 minutes off the bench. “We feel confident out there, and we feel comfortable with each other. We will be ready come playoff time.”

Detroit’s starters were effective in their limited minutes, as Tayshaun Prince scored 17 points and Ben Wallace added 15 points and 11 rebounds.

“I think that’s going to be the key to our success—guys going out there and wanting to play hard,” Wallace said. “Because anybody coming off the bench wants to look at Ronald Dupree and see what he did tonight. That’s what basketball is all about.”

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