Pistons lower magic number to clinch East to nine

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- There was no champagne in the Detroit Pistons' locker room Monday night.

In fact, the Pistons didn't even realize they clinched a tie for their fourth Central Division title in five years by beating Atlanta 91-84.

"I didn't know until someone just told me," Tayshaun Prince said. "I guess that shows you where our minds are right now."

The win put Detroit two steps up coach Flip Saunders' pyramid.

"First, you have to make the playoffs, which we did a couple weeks ago, and then you have to win the division," he said. "Now we have to get homecourt in the East, homecourt in the league, and then we have to win the championship."

Detroit (53-13), whose magic number to clinch the Eastern Conference dropped to nine over Miami, also moved to 40 games over .500 for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

"That's crazy," Chauncey Billups said. "This has been one of those special years for us. Hopefully, we can keep it up."

Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, an assistant on Detroit's 2003-04 championship team, thinks they can.

"It's going to be interesting to see how it carries over in the playoffs, but I predict they'll win the title," he said.

The Hawks have lost five of six.

"I was pretty pleased with our effort," Woodson said. "We came in and competed."

Prince scored 18, as Detroit put five players in double figure. Ben Wallace scored only five, but he added 13 rebounds, four steals and three blocks.

"I was just trying to get the tempo up," he said. "You want to make teams play out of character."

Al Harrington led the Hawks with 23 points and Joe Johnson had 17.

"Obviously, they are the champions again," Harrington said. "I'm a big fan of Detroit, so hopefully they win it again."

Detroit led 53-34 at the half, thanks to 17 points from Rasheed Wallace, but Atlanta rallied in the third.

The Hawks scored 26 points in the quarter but couldn't get enough stops for a sustained rally. They got as close as 57-47 but never cut the lead to single digits.

"We've had some trouble coming out of halftime in the last few games," Prince said. "But we played great basketball in the first half."

The Pistons held a 72-60 advantage after three quarters, then put the game away by holding Atlanta to two points in the first 4:30 of the fourth.

Atlanta led 12-6, but the Pistons went ahead 4 minutes later and never trailed again. They led 30-20 at the end of the first quarter, and by 21 in the second quarter.

"They came out and just hit us in the mouth," Harrington said. "We kind of got disoriented, and we weren't running our stuff. If we could have regrouped earlier, it might have been a closer game."

Game notes
The Pistons have used the same starting lineup in all 66 games this season, matching the 2002-03 Warriors for the longest streak to start a season since 1980. ... Ben Wallace's four steals in the first quarter were one short of a franchise record. ... The Hawks missed eight of their first 10 free-throw attempts and finished 4-for-12 from the line. "I thought the best thing we did all night was defend free throws," Saunders joked. ... Detroit has won 15 straight at home, tied for third-best in franchise history.