Cleveland (36-9) at Detroit (25-20)

Cloudy Currently: Auburn Hills, MI
Temp: 21° F
  • Game info: 2:30 pm EST Sun Feb 1, 2009
  • TV: ABC
Preview | Box Score | Recap

After looking susceptible at times without their big man, the Cleveland Cavaliers again played like a true title contender with the return of Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

The Cavaliers hope Ilgauskas can also help them end their recent struggles in Detroit.

Central Division-leading Cleveland looks to end a four-game losing streak at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Sunday when they play the Pistons, who are trying to avoid losing four straight home games for the first time in eight years.

LeBron James has done an outstanding job carrying the Cavaliers (36-9) without Ilgauskas, but the return of the 7-foot-3 center definitely helps take some of the pressure off the five-time All-Star.

Ilgauskas scored 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds in Friday’s 112-95 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in his first game after missing 13 because of a broken left ankle.

His presence opened up the floor for James, who finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists, and Mo Williams, who had 23 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.

The Cavs went 9-4 without Ilgauskas, averaging 99.6 points and getting outrebounded five times. On Friday, they shot 49.4 percent from the floor, made a season-high 14 3-pointers on 26 attempts and grabbed 10 more boards than the Clippers.

“Our offense always runs a lot smoother when (Ilgauskas is) out there because it leads to everyone getting touches because the paint is so wide open,” said James, who is averaging 28.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists in his last 10 games. “His ability to spread the offense and spread the floor helps us out a lot. When he’s not in there, it seems the paint is much more crowded.”

Cleveland, which has not won a division title since 1975-76, has opened up an 11-game lead over second-place Detroit (25-20) in the Central.

The Cavs have had little luck lately against the four-time division defending Pistons, though.

Cleveland lost 96-89 at the Palace on Nov. 19, and has dropped 10 of the last 12 meetings. The Cavs have also lost four straight games in Detroit, and 13 of 15 there.

James had 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting in the November meeting, and is averaging 18.3 points on 33.8 percent shooting, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists during Cleveland’s losing streak in Detroit.

The Pistons no longer have a significant home-court advantage like they once did, though.

From 2004-05 through last season, Detroit had the league’s third-best home record at 129-35. This season, the Pistons are 13-10 at the Palace, and have dropped five of their last six there.

Detroit suffered its third straight home defeat on Friday, an 86-78 setback to Boston. The Pistons, who have lost eight of their 11 games overall, have not lost four straight home contests since dropping eight in a row from Dec. 30, 2000-Feb. 2, 2001.

Detroit struggled on Friday because its top three frontcourt players - Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Tayshaun Prince - were a combined 7-of-31 from the field.

Allen Iverson scored 19 points against the Celtics, and has been held under 20 in each of his last five games.

The Pistons are 11-3 when Iverson scores 20 or more points, and 11-19 when he doesn’t. The 10-time All-Star had 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting in the win over the Cavs in November, and is averaging 29.7 points in his last 10 games versus them.

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Sunday, Feb 1