Pistons 109, Suns 102

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—Chauncey Billups wants it all: NBA title No. 2, and an MVP trophy.

Billups helped the Detroit Pistons earn home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs and might have rekindled his MVP candidacy in the process.

He scored 35 points against reigning MVP Steve Nash and his 3-pointer with 3:40 left put the Pistons ahead in a 109-102 win over Phoenix on Sunday.

“I think I made a good case,” Billups said. “It would mean a lot. Not as much as another championship, but it means a lot to even be mentioned.”

In a matchup of MVP candidates, Billups was sensational while Nash struggled, shooting 4-of-11 for 13 points.

“Chauncey was amazing,” Nash said.

The Pistons (59-14) clinched the best record ahead of Miami.

“This is the third of our five steps, but this one might be the most important of the first four, because of the 2-2-1-1-1 format in the conference finals,” Detroit coach Flip Saunders said.

The first two goals were to make the playoffs and win the division, and the last two are to clinch the best record in the league and win a second title in three years.

Detroit expects to be without Rasheed Wallace on Tuesday at home against the Hornets. Wallace is subject to a one-game suspension for picking up his 16th technical foul.

“I don’t care about No. 16,” Wallace said. “I’m just going to be cheering from home.”

Shawn Marion scored 32 for Phoenix, which has lost five of its last nine games.

The Pistons have won eight of nine and for their second straight victory, they had to overcome a big deficit.

Detroit trailed by 17 in the first half and 16 in the third quarter before coming back with a pair of 7-0 runs in the third. Billups scored 15 in the third and Ben Wallace had 10 of his 11 points.

The teams traded leads in the fourth quarter until Billups took over.

Billups put the Suns away with a 3-pointer from about 30 feet just before the shot clock expired, which Nash said won the game, and a go-ahead 3-pointer on the next possession, giving Detroit a 100-98 lead that it didn’t relinquish.

“It’s not like we were making a lot of mistakes on him, he was just making shots that were incredible,” Nash said.

When Billups was shooting free throws in the final minute, the crowd chanted: “MVP! MVP!”

In Detroit’s previous game, Milwaukee led 15-0 and had an 18-point lead in the third quarter before the Pistons rallied.

“That’s probably why they’ve been to the Finals the past two years,” Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The Suns played well for two-plus quarters without a usual game from Nash because Boris Diaw (16), Raja Bell (12) and reserve Leandro Barbosa (10) carried the scoring load.

Billups wasn’t a one-man team.

Tayshaun Prince had 23 points and eight rebounds, Rasheed Wallace had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Richard Hamilton had 12 points and seven assists and Ben Wallace had 11 rebounds along with a double-digit scoring game.

Detroit’s starters extended an NBA record with their 73rd start together, but the streak almost ended in bizarre fashion.

Saunders decided to play Antonio McDyess in place of Rasheed Wallace, who arrived at the arena just 20 minutes before the game.

“That clock thing had me messed up,” said Wallace, referring to daylight savings time.

Public-address announcer John Mason included Wallace in the lineup.

“When they announced his name, I was the most surprised person in the building,” Saunders said.

Then, after Saunders said Wallace was not starting, Mason was told to say McDyess was playing. But with Wallace on the court for the tipoff, Mason was told to say Wallace was starting. Saunders relented because McDyess said he didn’t want to start.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Wallace said.

The Pistons spent a lot of time arguing with officials, leading to technicals against Billups, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace.

It got so testy that Mason was admonished by official Steve Javie for contorting his face after a call was made against the Pistons.

Notes

The Suns still do not have a timetable for Amare Stoudamire’s possible return. D’Antoni said the team is waiting for the swelling in Stoudamire’s left knee to go down before moving forward with the next step in his rehabilitation. … The Pistons tied the second-most victories in team history and are within reach of the franchise record of 63 from 1989-90, when the team went on to win its second straight title.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Phoenix
S. Marion S. Marion
13-16,  32 Pts
10 Rebs, 2 Assists
 Detroit
C. Billups C. Billups
12-23,  35 Pts
4 Rebs, 5 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists