Pistons 96, Cavaliers 76

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CLEVELAND (AP)—The Detroit Pistons aren’t just on an eight-game winning streak—they’ve put together a string of blowouts.

The Pistons have won by an average of nearly 22 points over the run, holding opponents to just under 70 points on average.

Detroit’s defense dominated Cleveland in the first half Sunday and the Cavaliers lost 96-76, their worst defeat since losing to New Jersey just before the All-Star break.

“I don’t know any other team that plays defense like they do,” Cleveland Cavaliers forward Carlos Boozer said.

Despite the loss, Cleveland remained in the eighth playoff spot in the East with Boston and Toronto close behind.

Chauncey Billups had 18 points and Richard Hamilton had 14, but it was defense that set the tone early. The Pistons contested every shot, knocked balls loose and refused to let the Cavaliers near the basket.

“Defense carries their team and they are going to go a long way,” LeBron James said. “I pretty much picked them to be in the Eastern Conference finals.”

James shot poorly for his second straight game—5-for-17 for 15 points— and failed to delight the sold-out crowd with his usual stunning dunks.

Detroit held the Cavaliers to a season-low 31 points in the first half. The Pistons led by as many as 28 in the third quarter and let their backups finish the game.

By letting up in the second half, it was the most points the Pistons have allowed an opponent to score during their streak.

“You don’t let the home team feel good about themselves and feed off the crowd,” Lindsey Hunter said. “You try to frustrate them. We did that early tonight.”

Boozer, who has been the Cavaliers’ most consistent player, still managed to get 21 points and 17 rebounds.

Ben Wallace had two points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.

The Pistons had lost two straight to Cleveland, but had not faced them since acquiring Rasheed Wallace, who scored 10 points. The Cavaliers lost their second straight playing without point guard Jeff McInnis, who has a strained right shoulder.

Without McInnis, the Cavaliers committed 14 turnovers, resulting in 18 points.

“Jeff probably would have made a huge difference,” Boozer said. “The turnovers might have been cut down to five and we would have a lot more fast-break baskets.”

Hamilton and Corliss Williamson led Detroit on a 14-0 run late in the first period to take a 27-17 lead and the Pistons never looked back. Williamson had 12 points, all in the first half, and Mehmet Okur had 13 off the bench.

“In our minds, we have the best bench in the league,” Williamson said.

Detroit widened the lead to 53-31 at halftime. The Cavaliers shot just 31 percent for the half and 38 percent overall as the Pistons forced them to settle for outside shots.

The Pistons shot 54 percent in the first half, taking nearly everything to the hole on the Cavaliers, including a soaring Tayshaun Prince dunk over Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Prince finished with 13 points.

“We were great. We were better than good,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said of the first half performance.

With McInnis out, Cavaliers coach Paul Silas moved James to point guard midway through the second quarter, something he said before the game he didn’t want to do.

“We needed all of our weapons tonight just to be competitive and we didn’t have everybody,” Silas said.

The Cavaliers fell to 11-5 since the All-Star break.

Notes

Detroit has won five straight on the road. … The Pistons are 12-3 since trading for Rasheed Wallace on Feb. 19. … The Cavaliers went 17-8 after trading for McInnis on Jan. 21 and are 0-2 without him. … The Pistons and Cavaliers split their season series 2-2. … The matchup included the top two draft picks of 2003—James and Darko Milicic, who played seven minutes and had two rebounds and an assist. … Brown said he has no influence on whether the USA Basketball selection committee will pick James for the Athens Olympics. “If they’re going to do it based on the contribution they think a player canmake, he’s obviously done pretty darn good.”

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Detroit
C. Billups C. Billups
5-9,  18 Pts
2 Rebs, 6 Assists
 Cleveland
C. Boozer C. Boozer
10-12,  21 Pts
17 Rebs, 1 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists