EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Flip Saunders is getting a sense of
what motivates his defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit
"My take is that these guys need challenges," said Saunders,
in his first year as Pistons coach. "Sometimes maybe they can get
a little bored out there. But when they're locked in, it's like a
curtain goes up and you can see it in their faces. They go from
fifth gear into a sixth gear."
The win allowed Detroit (11-2) to maintain the best record in
the NBA this season, one-half game ahead of San Antonio (11-3),
which was idle. The Pistons also improved to 7-1 on the road.
"We love playing on the road," said guard Chauncey Billups,
whose 3-pointer with 1:35 remaining gave Detroit a 90-80 lead. "We
love the idea of 14, 15, 18,000 people all being against you and
being able to quiet the crowd. We love that. We feed off that."
Richard Hamilton scored 30 points to lead Detroit and hit a key
3-pointer -- one of a season high-tying 10 by the Pistons -- with
2:08 left after New Jersey's Jason Collins fumbled Tayshaun
Prince's missed shot out of bounds. Hamilton's shot gave Detroit an
87-78 lead, their biggest since late in the first quarter.
Billups scored 20 points and Prince added 17 for Detroit. The
Pistons built a 12-point lead in the first quarter, then saw it
evaporate as the Vince Carter led a surge that gave the Nets a
45-40 lead at halftime.
As they have done in most games this season, the Pistons
dominated in the second half, shooting 18-for-35 in the final 24
minutes. They retook the lead on a 16-5 third-quarter run and held
off the Nets by patiently working the ball around and finding the
open man. Usually that was Hamilton or Billups, who were a combined
16-for-27 for the game.
"Early in games we've gotten off to slow starts, but tonight we
got off to a great start," said Prince. "In the second quarter we
kind of got lazy a little bit and they capitalized on it. But the
fourth quarter has been our quarter early in the season in terms of
hitting our shots and executing our plays, and that's something
that we did tonight."
Carter led the Nets with 27 points. Richard Jefferson added 20
for New Jersey, which was playing its first game at home after a
five-game West Coast trip.
After holding Los Angeles and Denver to 34 percent and 38
percent, respectively, in its last two games, New Jersey's defense
took a step back -- literally and figuratively -- in allowing the
Pistons to shoot 33-for-73 (45 percent) as a team.
The Nets did outscore the Pistons in the paint 48-22, but
couldn't convert on several chances late in the game.
"We feel we can compete against the best teams in the league,"
said Carter. "But against the better teams, you can't have the
mental mistakes late in the game, because that's when the better
team will prevail. They hit some big shots and we left them wide
open to hit some big shots."
The game was Jefferson's first against the Pistons since he
injured his wrist last December on a hard foul by Billups and wound
up missing three months. "What's there to say?" Jefferson said
before the game. "I could say some stuff and give you something to
write about, but I'd rather hurt him where it hurts them most, on
the court." ... The Nets' next win will be the 1,000th in