CLEVELAND (AP)—Rasheed Wallace stepped out of the shower area and reset the track on the portable stereo in Detroit’s locker room. Seconds later, he swayed to the booming beat and began to rap.
“Afraid of none of you cowards,” he shouted, spitting out lyrics along with hip hop star Nas.
Wallace might as well have been singing about the Pistons.
On the road, they fear nothing.
Billups added 10 assists, Wallace 13 rebounds and the division-leading Pistons won their fifth straight regular-season game over the Cavaliers, who pushed them to seven games in last year’s playoffs.
With their third win in a row, the Pistons improved to 15-9 outside Michigan’s state lines and are the only team in the Eastern Conference with a winning road record.
“We expect to win,” Billups said.
The Pistons controlled the tempo from the outset and never allowed a crowd of more than 20,000 fans to begin the Super Bowl partying. Detroit kept it quiet by limiting LeBron James’ dunks, and any time Cleveland had a defensive breakdown, the Pistons hit an open jumper.
“You make a mistake, they know how to exploit it,” James said. “We didn’t make too many mistakes, but as soon as you make one, they make you pay for it.”
This Pistons’ squad is very similar to the one which beat Cleveland last May with one big addition: Webber, who signed with the club as a free agent on Jan. 16 and was facing the Cavs for the first time with his hometown team.
Webber’s presence is bad news for the Cavaliers, who don’t appear ready to dethrone their northern neighbors. Webber scored 13 points in the first half on 6-of-7 shooting when the Pistons grabbed control and never let go.
“When Ben Wallace was there, you could kind of relax on the offensive end when he was on the floor,” James said. “But now they have five guys that can easily score 20 points. They are a much better team with him (Webber).”
Detroit is 7-3 since Webber arrived.
“It feels good to be on a good team,” he said. “At any moment any guy we have can start carrying the load.”
James led the Cavaliers with 21 points, but the All-Star forward was only 9-of-22 from the field and had a few tough layups roll out. Larry Hughes added 14 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 12 with 11 rebounds for Cleveland, which is still seeking an offensive identity 48 games into the season.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said James, who was hounded by Tayshaun Prince. “One night we go out and score 100 and the next night we score 70.”
While trying to preserve their lead in the third quarter, the Pistons were one step ahead of the Cavaliers, beating them to long rebounds and loose balls while contesting every Cleveland shot in opening a 70-59 lead entering the fourth.
James, who scored 10 points in the first half, was held to just 2 in the third and attempted only one shot from the field. None of his teammates stepped up either; Cleveland hit six of 19 shots in the period.
“It was our tempo,” Prince said. “The way we like it.”
The Pistons kept a double-digit lead for most of the fourth before James’ reverse dunk and a 3-pointer by Sasha Pavlovic—seconds after Cleveland’s public address announcer mocked a miscue by shouting “Deee-troit Turn-over”, brought the Cavs within 83-76.
But Rip Hamilton hit a free throw and Wallace drained a long jumper with 49.2 seconds remaining, his swish wrapping the net around the rim, to end any thoughts the Cavs had at a comeback.
“Fix the net!” Wallace screamed.
By then, the Pistons had taken care of the Cavs.
The Cavs are 17-7 at home after beginning the season 15-3. … James recently remodeled his infamous Hummer, the one which got him into trouble with Ohio high school officials during his senior season at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary. Originally platinum-colored, the SUV—an 18th birthday present from his mom—was painted black and equipped with the latest electronics. “I did it for fun,” James said. “My mom didn’t like it of course because it’s now not the same one she got for me.” Surprisingly, James never signed an endorsement deal with Hummer. “I sold a lot of trucks for them,” said. “They should give me one for free.” … While the Pistons are the only Eastern Conference with a winning road record, five teams in the West are above .500 away from home.