HOUSTON (AP)—The Detroit Pistons are scoring more this season, but defense is still their calling card. It’s also the reason they’re still undefeated.
Richard Hamilton scored 19 points and the Pistons survived a dismal offensive performance Friday night, beating equally cold-shooting Houston 78-70.
The Pistons improved to 8-0, matching their best start since 1988-89, when they won the first of back-to-back NBA titles. If Detroit wins at Dallas on Saturday night, the Pistons will match the 1970-71 squad for the best start in franchise history.
The eighth win wasn’t pretty.
The Pistons shot 38.8 percent (33-of-85) and got outrebounded 52-38. Luckily, the Rockets were even worse, shooting 38.6 percent (27-of-70) with 19 turnovers.
“Defense is what we hang our hat on. It’s what we know how to do,” said Detroit center Ben Wallace, who had 16 rebounds.
The Pistons had topped 100 points in five of their first seven games and were starting to develop a reputation for their offense. They were off-target from the start in Houston, though, missing several open shots and a handful of dunks. Their point total was 25 below their season average.
The Rockets can relate. They’ve struggled offensively all season, shooting worse than 40 percent in four of their first eight games.
And now, they may have lost Tracy McGrady again.
The NBA’s sixth-leading scorer last season, McGrady went 3-for-16 for six points. He sat out the fourth quarter and said later he re-aggravated the strained back injury that kept him out of three games earlier this month.
“That’s not me out there,” McGrady said. “I’m hurting my team and I’m hurting myself. It was tough to sit there and watch the game. But at the same time, it’s tough for me to be going out there and go through what I’m dealing with.”
Even without McGrady, the Rockets had their chances.
They trailed 67-66 before Ben Wallace outleaped Yao Ming, who led the Rockets with 20 points and 11 rebounds, for an offensive rebound and scored on a reverse layup with just under 5 minutes left.
Yao hit a turnaround at the other end, but Rasheed Wallace scored with 4:04 to go and the Rockets got no closer.
Rasheed Wallace had three baskets in the closing minutes to help the Pistons escape. Detroit led 74-68 when Yao was called for a charge and fouled out.
“With 5 minutes left, we were up one and we just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We’re going to get what we want now. We’re going to force our will,”’ said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, who scored 13 points.
“We feel like, late in the game, we’re going to get it done. We don’t know who it will be, but we know it will be somebody.”
Houston dropped to 3-6, its worst start since opening 2-7 in 1999-00.
“It’s really frustrating,” Yao said. “It’s been a long time like this, whether we’re on the road or at home. We’re not finishing the job.”
David Wesley scored all 14 of his points in the second half for Houston. He also had nine rebounds and six assists in just his second start of the season.
Wesley saw positive signs from Houston’s performance, but not enough to be encouraged.
“We just didn’t get it done,” he said. “Yes, we’re moving in the right direction. If we play like that, we can look for better results. But wins are all that matter right now.”
The Rockets went 5 minutes without a field goal in the second quarter, but trailed only 39-36 at the break.
Hamilton made seven of 11 shots and scored 15 points in the opening half, while the rest of the Pistons went 11-of-31.
Houston was just as one-dimensional, with Yao scoring 12 points in the first half and no other Rocket scoring more than five.
McGrady, guarded tightly by Prince, missed seven of nine shots and had only four points in the first half, although he also had 10 rebounds.
Detroit has allowed 100 points in only two games this season. The Rockets were the sixth Pistons’ opponent to score fewer than 90. … The Pistons’ 13-point second quarter was a season low for a quarter. … Rockets guard Rafer Alston sat out with a bruised right leg. Alston had started each of Houston’s first eight games and averaged a team-high 4.1 assists.