With less than two weeks to go in the regular season, the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers are jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference. Inconsistent play by both teams is making that race interesting.
The Pistons and Cavaliers look to regain their composure and continue their battle for the top seed in the conference when they meet at The Palace on Sunday.
With seven games remaining, East-leading Detroit (48-27) has a magic number of four to clinch the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.
Cleveland (46-31) and Chicago are three games back with identical records, but the Bulls, who have won seven of their last eight, own the tiebreaker over the Cavs.
The Cavaliers were in second place last week, but alternating wins and losses over their last 10 games has dropped them to fifth.
The Pistons, meanwhile, are just 5-4 since March 22 and looked listless in a 106-88 home defeat to Chicago on Wednesday.
They led 53-52 at halftime, but fell apart in the third quarter when they shot 27.8 percent (5-of-18) and were outscored 32-16. Detroit was outrebounded 48-32 overall by a Bulls team that was playing without center Ben Wallace.
“We didn’t have energy, we didn’t get back,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “We played out of character a lot: Chauncey (Billups) trying to post, Rip (Richard Hamilton) trying to post at times and just played out of flow.”
Detroit has won two of three over Cleveland this season, but lost the last meeting 101-97 in overtime at The Palace on March 7.
Cavs star LeBron James had a season-high 41 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in that game, and Cleveland is hoping for a similar effort as James looks to bounce back from a rough shooting night.
James went 7-for-23 from the floor Friday, but he scored 14 of his 25 points and shot 6-of-7 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter as the Cavs beat Washington 99-94.
“It’s all about pride in the NBA,” said James, who also had six rebounds and five assists. “No matter who is out on the floor, we are all NBA players and we all want to win.”
The three-time All-Star averaged had 35.0 points on 54.3 percent shooting in his previous three games.
James and the Cavs have not won two in a row since a season-high eight-game winning streak from March 3-17, and haven’t beaten the Pistons two straight times since Dec. 11, 2003 and Feb. 3, 2004 of his rookie season.
Detroit’s Richard Hamilton had 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the March loss to Cleveland. He managed just 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting in the first two meetings of the season.
Hamilton, who averages a team-high 20.0 points, had a frustrating game against Chicago on Wednesday. He finished with more fouls (five) and turnovers (four) than points (three), and was hit with his 15th technical foul of the season. One more and he will earn a one-game suspension.
“I’ve got to watch out,” he said. “I have to be careful.”
Chris Webber had 10 points and eight rebounds Wednesday, and has 35 points and 17 boards in two games against the Cavs this season.