Pistons 87, Rockets 79

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—Yao and T-Mac experienced what Shaq and Kobe did.

The defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons are a tough match for any dynamic duo.

Rasheed Wallace, one of five Pistons to score in double figures, had 24 points to help Detroit defeat the Houston Rockets 87-79 Tuesday night in the first game of the NBA season.

“A lot of people are still doubting us, so I guess we just have to go win it all again,” Wallace said.

Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, playing their first regular-season game together, found out what Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal did during their final five games together with the Los Angeles Lakers: The Pistons, relentless on defense and well-balanced on offense, are difficult to beat.

“When you have one or two guys, we’ve got five coming at you,” Richard Hamilton said. “That’s tough.”

McGrady missed 12 of 18 shots and finished with 18 points after scoring just three during the first half. Yao had just seven points on 2-of-9 shooting.

“They play ‘D’. That’s why they won a championship,” McGrady said. “They did a great job of picking up the intensity in the second half, and they hit shots in the fourth.”

Detroit’s entire starting lineup from last season is back, and all five players scored at least 10. Aside from Rasheed Wallace’s big night on 10-of-19 shooting, Chauncey Billups had 17, Hamilton scored 15, Ben Wallace had 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Tayshaun Prince scored 10 while smothering McGrady defensively much like he did against Bryant during the NBA Finals.

“It’s very similar to guarding Kobe,” Prince said. “I just had to use my length.”

The Rockets shot just 39 percent. Charlie Ward had 13 points, Maurice Taylor had 12 and Jim Jackson added 10.

“We aren’t able to consistently attack on offense,” Yao said.

Rasheed Wallace, Billups and Prince made 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to cap a 13-2 run, putting the Pistons ahead 68-61. After Detroit’s stingy defense forced a shot-clock violation midway through the fourth, Ben Wallace’s tip-jam gave the Pistons a 76-66 lead.

The Rockets didn’t get closer than five after that.

Detroit had one last chance to enjoy its accomplishment from last season. Before the game, the Pistons were presented with championship rings by commissioner David Stern.

When the nine returning Pistons walked to center court for their rings during a 15-minute ceremony, they wore huge, gold-plated black belts provided by Rasheed Wallace that read: World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion.

Just before Detroit’s third world championship banner was raised to the rafters, Billups reached his right hand out and grabbed it.

“You wait so long for this day to happen and when it happens, you just want to cherish it,” said Hamilton, who put his ring on during the ceremony. “You forget that you’ve got a game to play.”

The Rockets acquired McGrady during the offseason hoping he and Yao could form an inside-outside combination that could replace O’Neal and Bryant as the dominant duo in the NBA.

“It’s going to take time, but those two guys are going to be really special together,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said.

Antonio McDyess was ejected from his Pistons debut for kicking the ball while complaining about a foul. He had three points, one rebound and one steal in nine minutes against Houston.

McDyess was called for a foul as he jumped for a rebound with 5:51 left in the second quarter. As McDyess walked downcourt, he dropped the basketball, kicked it and was ejected because of a new NBA rule.

“To me, that shows he cares,” Brown said.

Notes

When Stern was asked why the NBA started its season on election night, when much of the nation was monitoring the polls, he said: “We’re delighted to give our fans a diversion.” … Anita Baker sang the national anthem, and other faces in the crowd included musical artists Bob Seger, Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker. … The Pistons had a random drawing to give a ring to one of their fans: Dave Muehring, a Detroit firefighter.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Houston
Y. Ming Y. Ming
2-9,  7 Pts
10 Rebs, 0 Assists
 Detroit
B. Wallace B. Wallace
6-8,  15 Pts
10 Rebs, 4 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists