TORONTO (AP)—The Detroit Pistons are already preparing to defend their NBA title, just days after clinching their fourth straight postseason berth.
Detroit clinched a playoff spot with Friday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Pistons hold a 4 1/2 game lead over surging Chicago in the Central Division.
Detroit coach Larry Brown made all five starters play at least 36 minutes.
“Now, with nine or 10 games left, we are looking more at the playoffs and getting better and getting a set rotation,” Billups said. “Now is the time to look and see what works to defend our title. Today was one of the games he started to look at that.”
Richard Hamilton had 19 points, tied a season-high with 11 assists and had nine rebounds—falling a rebound short of his first career triple double.
After the game, Antonio McDyess told Hamilton he purposely avoided grabbing three rebounds in an effort to help Hamilton.
“You keep looking at the scoring sheet, but you’re still one short,” McDyess joked.
Rasheed Wallace added 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Pistons, who shot 58 percent. Detroit outscored Toronto 44-30 in the paint.
With the Pistons clinging to a one-point with 10:10 left in the fourth quarter, Billups started a 16-0 run with a jumper and 3-pointer. Wallace capped it with a short jumper, giving Detroit a 107-90 lead with 4:38 left as the Raptors were held scoreless for over five minutes.
“They are the world champs and I think in that fourth quarter they showed why,” Toronto’s Morris Peterson said. “They executed on offense, got key defensive stops and we were unable to respond.”
Peterson and Jalen Rose each had 22 points for the Raptors, who are six games behind Philadelphia for eighth and final playoff spot with nine games remaining.
Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince made the play of the game in the first half by blocking Rafer Alston’s layup attempt before tumbling into Toronto’s bench to keep the ball inbounds. Hamilton followed with a 3-pointer to give Detroit a seven-point lead.
“There’s a reason why that group won a championship last year and why they are going to compete for another,” Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said.
The Raptors are 13 games below .500 (30-43) with nine games left. Toronto will likely not make the playoffs for the third straight year. … The Pistons are 15-4 all-time in Toronto.