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Pistons stare directly at the Suns early, still see the bucket late

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I've decided to do a service for sportswriters everywhere by providing a generic introduction that will apparently be applicable for almost every Pistons game recap the rest of the way:

The Pistons allowed the hot-shooting [insert opponent here] to take a commanding lead on [insert day of game], at one point trailing by as many as [insert largest deficit here] -- at times [insert opponent's leading scorer] was simply unstoppable. In the end, however, the Boys in Blue withstood the charge, putting on the clamps in the second half before relying on [insert player here] to key a fourth-quarter rally.

Let's test this out with Friday's game:

The Pistons allowed the hot-shooting Bucks to take a commanding lead on Friday night, at one point trailing by as many as 18 -- at times Michael Redd was simply unstoppable. In the end, however, the Boys in Blue withstood the charge, putting on the clamps in the second half before relying on Antonio McDyess to key a fourth-quarter rally.

So far, so good. How about Sunday's game?

The Pistons allowed the hot-shooting Suns to take a commanding lead on Sunday afternoon, at one point trailing by as many as 17 -- at times Shawn Marion was simply unstoppable. In the end, however, the Boys in Blue withstood the charge, putting on the clamps in the second half before relying on Chauncey Billups to key a fourth-quarter rally.

I think this could actually work! Think of all the time I've just saved everyone Why didn't I come up with this earlier in the season?

Ben Wallace dunks against the Phoenix SunsClearly, you're not alone if you thought Sunday's game played out just like every other contest lately. But the good news is that in the end Detroit once again pulled it out. You'd think explaining the reptition in storylines would be as easy as blaming the defense for starting the game slow, but in reality there's simply nothing that can be done when every guy on the opposing team is shooting the lights out. The Suns scored 63 points while shooting 68% in the first half -- that's flat-out ridiculous, and nothing you can pin entirely on Detroit.Plus, scoring heaps and heaps of points is just what the Suns do -- they piled 140 points (in a non-overtime game) on the Raptors just a few days prior.

Luckily, the Pistons found a way to disrupt the Suns' flow in the second half, holding Phoenix to just 39 second-half points while scoring 60 themselves. (Look familiar? It should: Detroit outscored Milwaukee 61-39 over the final 20 minutes on Friday.) Ben Wallace scored 10 of his 11 points in the third, with at least three or four buckets coming off alley-oop or tip-in dunks. And, as usual, he made his presence known on the other end, finishing with five steals and three blocks to go with 12 rebounds.

Billups led the team with 35 points, and it was his long-range shooting (he went 5-7 on threes) that really helped cut into Phoenix's lead, which at times seemed almost insurmountable. Needless to say, he won the battle of MVP candidates, as Steve Nash shot just 4-11 to finish with 13 points and nine assists.

Tayshaun Prince finished with at least 20 for the second game in a row, scoring 23 to go with eight boards, three assists and a steal. Rasheed Wallace finished with a double-double, scoring 15 with 11 boards. The bench was a little more quiet than usual, but Antonio McDyess still scored six with six boards, dishing two assists with a block in 21 minutes. Mo Evans played seven minutes while Carlos Delfino stayed on the bench -- that seems to go along with Flip Saunders' plan to use Evans against quicker teams, because in my opinion the Suns are easily the fastest team in the league.

Steve Nash drives on Chauncey BillupsWith the win, the Pistons officially clinched another milestone by locking in the top seed in the East, as they hold a 10.5-game lead over Heat with just nine games left to play. As for the rest of the league, the Pistons are still two games up on the Spurs and a surprising five games up on the Mavericks, who've lost five of seven (but are in position to pull out the win today against the Nuggets).

Remember how we pointed a couple of weeks ago how the Pistons were about to embark on one of the most important stretches of their season? Well, it's safe to say they officially survived the test: they've now won eight of their past nine games, with the lone loss (against the Nets) coming against a division-leader.

End of the streak? Rasheed Wallace was late to the arena on Sunday, apparently due to the spring-forward time change last night (did you remember to change your clock?). He was included with the rest of the starters in the pre-game introductions before Flip Saunders asked Mason to make the announcement that Antonio McDyess would be starting. But Saunders flip-flopped, as Wallace was in fact on the floor for the tip-off, leading to another clarification from Mason.

It's not hard to see why Saunders relented -- benching Wallace and snapping the team's record of consecutive games to start a season with the same starters (now at 73) would have created an unnecessary distraction in the media. But unfortunately, Rasheed made another mistake to put the streak in jeopardy, and this time he may not get a second chance.

After Ben Wallace suffered a hard foul, Rasheed was tagged with a technical foul after complaining that the Suns should have been whistled for a flagrant. He now has 16 techs on the seasonWell, 19 to be exact, but three have been rescinded by the league and don't count toward the suspension tally., enough to earn him an automatic one-game suspension. According to the sideline reporter in Sunday's game, Rasheed's offending comment to the referee didn't contain profanity, so there's at least a chance that the league will grant him one more reprieve, but for the time being we should plan on him being unavailable for Tuesday's game against the Hornets.

It was a nice run, but the silver lining to this is that the Pistons won't feel compelled to use their starters in all 82 games. If their lead over the Spurs holds up and they enter the final game or two of the regular season with homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals locked up, the starters may get a chance to catch some rest before the start of the playoffs.

Pistons 109, Suns 102 box score [ESPN]