And when the Pistons come calling, the world—or whoever they’re playing that night—usually loses.
Rasheed Wallace returned from his one-game suspension to score 20 points, Tayshaun Prince added 20 and Hamilton scored 19 as the Pistons saw most of a 12-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate before beating the injury-depleted Miami Heat 95-82 on Thursday night.
It was the 27th road win this season for the Pistons, a franchise record.
“We take a lot of pride in being a good road team,” said guard Chauncey Billups, the Pistons’ MVP candidate who had 14 points and nine assists. “From Day 1, we talked about being a great road team.”
Detroit (61-14) won its sixth straight and moved three games ahead of idle San Antonio in the race for the NBA’s best record—the only major piece of regular-season business that remains for the Pistons, who need only three more wins to set a franchise single-season record.
Dwyane Wade had 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Shaquille O’Neal scored 28 for Miami, which played without injured starters James Posey and Jason Williams, plus top reserve Alonzo Mourning.
“We’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Wade said. “Of course, we can’t wait to get our whole team back, but you know, we gave ourselves a chance tonight on our home floor. They made the plays … they made the plays that the best team in the NBA makes to win.”
The Heat missed all 10 of their 3-point tries, were outrebounded 42-40 and had only their two stars manage more than six points.
“Against a team like that, you have to do everything right,” O’Neal said. “Once again, they capitalized off our mistakes. They just played well. When we play that team, we have to do everything right.”
Detroit won the season series 3-1 over the team it beat in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and has won nine of 14 matchups between the clubs since the start of last season.
“Every time we play Miami, regardless if it’s in the playoffs or a regular-season game or preseason game, the tension, the excitement, everything is there,” Pistons center Ben Wallace said.
Miami (49-26) lost for the fifth time in nine games, and saw its edge for the East’s second-best record shrink to 2 1/2 games over New Jersey, which beat Charlotte for its 14th straight win earlier Thursday.
Unlike the Pistons’ last visit, when Wade single-handedly outscored Detroit in the final period to key a 100-98 Heat win, Miami couldn’t dig out of this deficit—but it sure came close.
Rasheed Wallace’s three-point play with 9:23 left gave the Pistons a 77-65 lead before Miami scored the game’s next 10 points to climb within two.
And it wasn’t on the backs of the Heat stars, either; Shandon Anderson, Derek Anderson and Michael Doleac combined to score eight points in the Miami run, which ended when Prince scored from the right baseline with 5:55 left to restore a four-point Detroit advantage.
O’Neal had a dunk with 4:04 left that got Miami within 81-79, but the Heat didn’t manage another field goal the rest of the way and the Pistons closed the game on a 14-3 run.
“We thought we were going to win,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “We can play with anyone when we’re really in it and focused mentally on what we have to take away from a team like that.”
The Heat never led after intermission. Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer—the first of the game—early in the third period to put Detroit up 49-43, but Wade scored four of the next six points to help Miami pull back into a tie.
Detroit scored 10 of the next 12 points, though, a run started by Billups’ 3-pointer and capped by another 3-pointer from the Pistons’ MVP candidate 3 1/2 minutes later, giving his team a 61-51 edge.
Miami scored the next six points, but got no closer in the period. Wallace hit three free throws with 1.8 seconds left—he was kneed by Miami’s Antoine Walker while shooting a 3-pointer—for a 70-61 Detroit lead, followed by Tony Delk’s jumper on the first possession of the fourth quarter for an 11-point edge.
And although they were tested, the Pistons hung on.
“Hopefully we’ll play these guys again,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “But we both have a lot of work to do before that.”
Wade has 75 straight double-digit scoring efforts, tying the franchise record by Mourning. … Billups and Hamilton both drew technical fouls for arguing with 1:13 left in the half, after Prince didn’t draw a foul call. … The starting centers were a combined 2-for-9 from the foul line in the first quarter, with O’Neal’s 1-for-4 slightly better than Ben Wallace’s 1-for-5, one-airball performance.