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Billips, Hamilton lead Pistons in confernce final rematch

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- The Detroit Pistons' continuity was
too much for the changing Miami Heat.

Chauncey Billups scored 30 and Richard Hamilton had 25 points
and a season-high nine assists Thursday night to lead the Pistons
past the new-look Heat 106-101 in a rematch of last season's
Eastern Conference finals.

In their first matchup since the Pistons won at Miami in Game 7
of the series, Detroit made clutch shots and key defensive plays in
the final minutes to pull away.

"We've been together so long and in so many tough situations,
we never get rattled," Billups said. "Somebody is always coming
up big down the stretch."

The Pistons have had the same starting five for nearly two
years, a span that includes one NBA title and falling just short of
a repeat, and four of their starters have been together for three
long playoff runs.

They have a new coach, Flip Saunders, who has made them better
offensively while maintaining their defensive prowess.

"Now, we can score points and lock up, too," Hamilton said.

Miami added players through free agency and trades in the
offseason, and Pat Riley replaced Stan Van Gundy as coach earlier
this month.

"That team has been together -- we haven't," Heat center Alonzo
Mourning said.

Detroit has won a season-high nine straight games. The Pistons
are an NBA-best 24-3, with a 27-game record that trails just two
teams in NBA history.

"We're chasing something bigger than Miami, or anybody else,"
Ben Wallace said. "We have an opportunity to do something special.
We're not worried about sending messages."

Dwyane Wade had 33 points, Shaquille O'Neal scored 26 and Jason
Williams chipped in with 20 points for the Heat, who had won seven
of nine games.

"We had the game all the way, we just made a lot of silly
mistakes down the stretch," O'Neal said. "You can't do that
against a team like Detroit.

"They are the same as last year. They can be beat."

Detroit's Rasheed Wallace scored 21 points and Tayshaun Prince
added 13.

The Pistons, off to the best start in franchise history, have
won 13 games in December for the first time and have lost only once
this month.

Following 17 lead changes and 15 ties, Rasheed Wallace's
3-pointer gave Detroit an 83-74 lead with 10:49 left.

Miami then scored seven straight points to pull within two, a
deficit the Heat had four more times in the fourth quarter before
Williams' steal and basket made it 95-all with 4:11 to go.

After two more ties, Billups' layup and Rasheed Wallace's fourth
3-pointer put the Pistons ahead 104-99 with 1:06 remaining.

"Sheed's 3 was a dagger," Billups said. "He has a knack for
those big shots."

Detroit sealed the win on the next two possessions when Prince
forced Wade -- guarding him for the first time -- into an errant
shot, and Ben Wallace tipped the ball away from O'Neal.

"It came down to one or two plays and we didn't make them,"
said Riley, whose record is 6-3 this season. "They are a great
team. They can score and they can stop you.

"They've got everything."

The game was close and intense, like their playoff series six
months ago.

The Pistons led 27-26 after the first quarter, with Billups
scoring 12. Williams and O'Neal each had 11 points.

Detroit was ahead 53-52 at halftime after 14 ties and 13 lead
changes.

The Heat led for much of the third, but Hamilton put the Pistons
ahead late in the quarter and his consecutive assists gave them a
seven-point lead -- the largest for either team up to that point --
and they ended the third quarter with a 79-72 lead.

"I wish I could have been in the stands," Saunders said.
^Notes:@ The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers and the 1969-70 New York
Knicks started 25-2, and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were 24-3 as
they started an 18-game winning streak en route to an NBA-record
72-victories. ... The Pistons are the only team in the NBA that has
used the same starters in every game this season. ... Wade and
Udonis Haslem are the only players who have started every game for
the Heat this season. ... Ben Wallace still has a fat lip and five
stitches, two days after teammate Antonio McDyess hit him
inadvertently with an elbow.