One Away

While it has been anticipated for months, the Detroit Pistons are now just one victory from clinching their fourth straight Central Division title.

The Pistons look to break out of their little funk and accomplish that feat at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday when they host the stumbling Miami Heat.

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Detroit (50-21) has already clinched its seventh straight playoff berth, and with a 10 1/2-game lead over second-place Cleveland with 11 games to play, either a Pistons victory or a Cavaliers loss will result in an outright division title for Detroit. Cleveland's next game is Saturday at the Palace.

The Pistons have won the last three Central crowns, and five division titles the last six years, but their main goal is to win their first NBA title since 2004.

"Our thing is not the division or the East,'' Chauncey Billups said after Wednesday's 89-82 loss to Toronto. "Our thing is the whole thing. That's the way we think.''

The Pistons have dropped three of their last four games, but all of those losses have been on the road. They should be happy about returning to Detroit, where they have won four straight - including victories over San Antonio, New Orleans and Phoenix - and 14 of their last 16.

"We're coming down the home stretch now, 11 games left,'' said Billups, who had 24 points and nine assists against the Raptors. "You want to start playing with some consistency.''

Detroit has also won four straight home games over Miami (13-58), and nine of the last 10 meetings at the Palace. The Heat, meanwhile, have lost three straight on the road, and 20 of their last 22 away from Miami.

Richard Hamilton, who leads the Pistons in scoring at 17.7 points per game, missed his second consecutive game Wednesday with a sore left hip, but is expected to be back for this game. Hamilton had 19 points in his only game against the Heat this season, and is averaging 21.0 points in his last eight games versus them.

The Pistons are 2-0 against Miami this season, and have won 17 of their last 21 meetings.

Rasheed Wallace has 37 points and 18 rebounds against the Heat this season, while Billups is averaging 17.0 points and 10.5 assists in those contests.

The Heat opened a four-game road trip Wednesday with a 103-96 overtime loss to New York, their 12th defeat in 14 games this month.

Miami erased a six-point deficit in the final 1:30 of regulation by hitting three 3-pointers, including Ricky Davis' tying shot with 6.4 seconds left. Davis opened overtime with another 3, but the Heat managed only one free throw the rest of the way.

"I think the ball should go to my hands and we should've got better looks in overtime,'' said Davis, who finished with 28 points on a career-best 7-of-10 shooting from 3-point range.

Miami is without Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion and using seven players from the NBA Development League, including three who were called up last week.

Davis, who is averaging 13.7 points, has 43 points on 58.6 percent shooting in two games versus the Pistons this season.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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