Detroit defense stifles Cleveland

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - When LeBron James shot two airballs on a single possession in the first quarter, it was a sign of things to come.

Richard Hamilton scored 21 points and the Detroit Pistons held Cleveland to a six-point third quarter and almost held James scoreless in the second half in an 81-69 win Thursday night.

James finished with a season-low 11 points on 4-of-21 shooting, eight rebounds and seven assists.

''I missed a lot of shots that I'm normally going to make, but they were playing really tough defense against me,'' said James, who scored a career-low four points last year as a rookie. ''Every time I came off a screen, they doubled me.''

After making a fadeaway jumper over Ben Wallace at the end of the first half, James didn't score again until there was 2:12 left in the game.

James scored a career-high 43 points the last time he faced the Pistons, a 92-76 win on Nov. 28 in Cleveland.

What was the key to slowing down the 19-year-old phenom this time?

''He got whatever he wanted in the last game,'' Rasheed Wallace said. ''Not this time.''

Chauncey Billups scored 16, Rasheed Wallace had 13 and Ben Wallace added 10 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons.

Cleveland's Drew Gooden scored 18 points, Jeff McInnis had 14 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas finished with 12 after an eight-point first quarter.

The Central Division-leading Cavaliers are 9-1 at home, but just 5-8 on the road.

The Pistons erased a 10-point halftime deficit during the third quarter, with Lindsey Hunter's two free throws with 4:09 left giving them the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game.

Detroit outscored the Cavaliers 21-6 in the third to take a five-point lead and it led by double digits for much of the final quarter. The six-point quarter matched a season low in the NBA this season.

''We lost our poise,'' Cleveland coach Paul Silas said. ''We had everything going for us, but we didn't do a good job with it. Even when they made their run and we were only five or six points behind, we were worried about the officials and things going wrong. You can't do that. We have to learn from this.''

As usual, the Pistons dug a hole early, but for the second straight game, they came back for a win.

They started the second quarter with a deficit - 23-19 - for the 16th time in 22 games and were behind 41-31 at halftime.

''We continue to make it tough on ourselves in the first half by playing so relaxed,'' Ben Wallace said. ''In the second half, we have to play perfect.''

Cleveland point guard Eric Snow was sent to the locker room after getting in an argument on the bench with Silas in the second quarter. Snow returned to the bench after halftime, but seldom-used backup Dajuan Wagner played in his place.

Silas was upset with Snow because the Cavaliers turned the ball over on an eight-second violation.

''Nobody was open,'' Snow shouted back at Silas.

Silas then took Snow out of the game and after a heated conversation, he gestured to Snow to get off the bench.

''I am not going to discuss that,'' Silas said.

Snow also declined comment after the game.

Bulls 85, Bucks 77

CHICAGO - Kirk Hinrich scored 28 points, and the Bulls won two in a row for the first time this season.

Eddy Curry added 18 points for the Bulls, who won for the fourth time in six games.

Michael Redd had 22 points for Milwaukee, which lost its third straight game and 13th of 16 overall. The Bucks are 1-9 on the road.

Lakers 115, Kings 99

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - When the Lakers were dismantled last summer, the Sacramento Kings thought their biggest rivalry was finished.

Turns out Kobe Bryant and his new teammates are ready to start it up again.

Bryant had 31 points and 12 assists, Lamar Odom scored 22 points and Los Angeles handed Sacramento just its third loss in 17 games.

Brian Cook hit four of the Lakers' 12 3-pointers in perhaps their best game of the season. In a building where Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal enjoyed some of their greatest playoff triumphs during the last six seasons, the new Lakers handed Sacramento its worst home loss since a 116-95 loss to San Antonio on March 2, 1998.

Chris Webber and Bobby Jackson scored 20 points apiece for the Kings, whose starters spent the final five minutes sitting on the bench in humiliated indignation.

Sacramento was exposed in just its second home loss of the season, with Los Angeles outscoring the Kings 37-22 in the third quarter of a game that wasn't even as close as the final score. Brad Miller managed just six points in 38 minutes, and Peja Stojakovic was ineffective despite getting 16 points.

From the cultural poles of California, Los Angeles and Sacramento battled atop the Pacific Division standings for the better part of a decade, trading verbal jabs and actual punches along with baskets in countless memorable games and playoff series.

But after the Lakers were revamped in the offseason to defuse the growing feud between Shaq and Kobe, Webber pronounced one of the NBA's better rivalries dead - even though Vlade Divac, perhaps the most beloved player in Sacramento's renaissance, defected back to Los Angeles for a $4.9 million contract.

Webber's prediction seems a bit premature. Sacramento pulled out an entertaining 109-106 victory at Staples Center last month - and in the rematch, the Lakers handed the Kings their most embarrassing home defeat during coach Rick Adelman's seven seasons.

Bryant was greeted with his usual showers of boos at Arco Arena, and the Kings went after him with double-teams. He still showed brilliance: a two-handed reverse dunk, an awkward scoop shot while being fouled and a four-point play in the third quarter, hitting a 3-pointer while Doug Christie fouled him on the elbow.

Bryant scored 16 points in the third as the Lakers made 68 percent of their shots.

The Lakers exploited the biggest flaws in the Kings' defense: poor rotation to open shooters and an utter inability to stop dribble penetration. Odom blew by Webber atop the key on several possessions, while Tierre Brown, Chucky Atkins and the rest of the Lakers' guards drove the lane almost at will.

Brown scored 13 points in the fourth, and Adelman pulled all of his starters with a 20-point deficit and nearly five minutes still to play.

Divac has been a disappointment in Los Angeles, struggling with a back injury and playing no significant minutes this season. He got a warm ovation when he entered the game late in the first quarter, but played just three minutes.

Notes: The teams don't meet again until April, when they'll face off twice in six days. ... Bibby missed a layup and two wide-open 3s in the opening minutes, but then made five straight shots. ... Sacramento had won its last three home games against the Lakers.

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