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Billups' free throws seal Pistons' victory

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It took nearly until overtime for the Detroit Pistons to show the form that made them NBA champions last season.

After a sluggish performance through most of regulation Monday night, the Pistons had to fight and claw to pull out a 99-96 victory in double overtime against a Los Angeles Clippers squad that was missing center Chris Kaman and forward Kerry Kittles.

Chauncey Billups scored four of his 20 points on free throws in the final 45 seconds, and Richard Hamilton also had 20. All five Detroit starters scored in double figures for the fourth straight
game.

"We had the game under control," said assistant coach Gar Heard, who is running the club while head coach Larry Brown recovers from hip surgery. "We took a couple of ill-advised shots that gave them some light, but this team showed why they are the champions. They dug in when we had to and won the game."

Ben Wallace scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds after learning of the death of his brother, Sam Jr., who died Monday morning in Alabama.

Hamilton missed 10 of his first 13 shots as the Pistons shot 41.8 percent. Billups launched a 27-foot airball from the right sideline in the first quarter.

Corey Maggette had 25 points and a career-high 19 rebounds for the Clippers but missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer that would have tied the game. Chris Wilcox had 24 points, and Elton Brand scored 21.

"On the one hand, I am really proud of the way the guys played," Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy said. "On the other hand, I am disappointed at the way we gave the game away. We had a really good chance at beating this team."

Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince picked up their sixth fouls in the final three minutes of the second OT, but the Clippers went the final 2:45 without a field goal and finished with 27 turnovers. Backup point guard Shaun Livingston missed all six of his shots.

"That's a veteran ballclub -- the world champions. We have to give them respect, but I think we played hard enough to beat them," Maggette said. "We did the right things and we executed right, but there were just little mishaps at the end that cost us the game."

Rasheed Wallace came close to getting his second technical foul with 8:46 left in regulation but was restrained by a couple teammates after complaining to referee Eddie F. Rush that he
knocked the ball off Clippers guard Quinton Ross and out of bounds. The possession went to the Clippers instead.

Wallace responded with a turnaround jumper and a 13-footer, helping extend a four-point lead to 74-65 with 6:43 remaining. The Clippers closed to 79-76 on a layup by Brand and an alley-oop from Maggette to Wilcox with 2:37 left in the fourth.

Wilcox and Maggette each made 1-of-2 from the line for the Clippers before Hamilton's layup put Detroit back in front, 81-80 with 51 seconds left in regulation. Maggette regained the lead for Los Angeles with an 18-foot fadeaway jumper with 32 seconds left
and Marko Jaric added a free throw, but Hamilton's short baseline jumper with six seconds remaining forced overtime with the game tied at 83.

Game notes
Since moving to Los Angeles for the 1984-85 season, the Clippers are 9-57 against teams that won the NBA title the previous season. ... The Pistons have six players who were drafted in the top 10 -- Derrick Coleman (1st, New Jersey), Antonio McDyess (2nd,
Clippers), Billups (3rd, Boston), Rasheed Wallace (4th,
Washington), Hamilton (7th, Washington) and Lindsey Hunter (10th, Pistons). ... Kaman's sprained left ankle will keep him out until the team returns from a three-game road trip Nov. 16. ... Bobby Simmons is one of three former Pistons now playing for the Clippers, joining Mikki Moore and Zaljko Rebraca.