Bobcats 103, Pistons 96
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—The Charlotte Bobcats proved good teams can’t just show up against them and win.
Charlotte, which has one of the NBA’s worst records, has just 10 wins this year and two of those victories have come over Pistons, who have the second-best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference. Utah, San Antonio and Cleveland have also lost to the Bobcats this season.
“It’s mind over matter, I guess,” Charlotte’s Emeka Okafor said. “You up your level when you are playing the best competition.”
The Pistons have shown playing teams they’re supposed to beat often brings out their worst because they simply don’t appear to play with energy.
“I don’t care if we’re playing a high school team,” said Flip Murray, who is filling in for Pistons All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups. “We have to play hard—and we ain’t.”
Detroit’s Richard Hamilton scored 23 points before being ejected with two technical fouls, called about a minute apart, with 1:04 left because he was complaining to official Ron Olesiak.
The Pistons were held to eight points in the second quarter—their lowest-scoring quarter of the season—and watched a nine-point lead turn into a 10-point deficit.
“I don’t know if we can take any credit for that,” Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said.
Detroit pulled to 69-67 early in the fourth quarter, but their lackluster play led to Charlotte outscoring them 11-1 to take command of the game again. The Pistons finally played with a sense of urgency and rallied to pull within four points with 1:43 left, but couldn’t get closer.
“We’ve been saying the same thing over and over all year—we have to play with more energy,” Hamilton said. “That’s been the thing we’ve built this on, and we can’t give it up now.”
Detroit fell to 2-3 without Billups (calf) in the lineup, making Murray the starting point guard and rookie Wil Blalock a backup.
“They’ve been thrown into the fire, but it will be good for them and for us in the long run,” Hamilton said. “We might need those guys in the playoffs.”
Felton paced an offense that scored against the Pistons—easily at times— from all over the court.
Wallace did not start and, this time, Pistons coach Flip Saunders said it was for basketball reasons.
Against Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Wallace was benched after calling to say he would be late to a practice and was told to meet the team at the airport to travel for the road game against the 76ers.
“This is strictly for basketball reasons,” Saunders said. “We would like him to play about 30 minutes a night, so this will help, and he can give us a lift off the bench.”
The move worked out early in the game.
Wallace entered the game against Charlotte with 4:15 left in the first quarter and he made his first attempt, a 3-pointer that gave the Pistons a seven-point lead.
After trailing by nine, Charlotte opened the second quarter with a 12-0 run and outscored Detroit 15-1 later in the quarter to lead 45-32.
The Bobcats led by as much as 12 in the third quarter and built double-digit leads in the fourth after Detroit pulled within two points during one of its rare stretches of aggressive play.
“We couldn’t get to long rebounds. We couldn’t get loose balls,” Saunders said. “We couldn’t get over the hump. We just didn’t have energy.
“Then, we put them at the line a lot in the fourth quarter and didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Charlotte made 21 of 23 free throws in the final quarter.
Billups said he hopes to return Saturday at home against Boston. … Bickerstaff said Wallace, who has been out since Dec. 30 with a separated right shoulder, is getting close to coming back and Knight, who began rehabilitation this week after undergoing surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle, is likely out until late January. … The Pistons’ previous low for a quarter was an 11-point first on Nov. 8 at Sacramento, where they lost 99-86. … Detroit has won an Eastern Conference-high 11 games on the road, but is just 9-6 at home. “We’re just giving games away,” Hamilton said.