Pistons rally past Heat and clinch division title

Fri Mar 28, 2008 1:52am EDT
 
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DETROIT (Reuters) - The Detroit Pistons clinched their fourth consecutive Central Division title on Thursday with a 85-69 win over the Miami Heat.

Rookie Arron Afflalo had a career-best 15 points and seven rebounds for the Pistons, who rallied from a nine-point, second-quarter deficit against the last-place Heat.

"That's a credit to (the players)," Detroit coach Flip Saunders told reporters after locking up the division title.

"We've had a lot of games where we've probably lost games because we've played those (young) guys to give them some quality time and quality minutes and they had to stumble," Saunders added.

"But sometimes you have to stumble in order to step forward and that's what they've been able to do over the course of the season."

The Pistons, who have the second-best record in the NBA after the Boston Celtics, again played without guard Richard Hamilton (hip injury) but got key performances from Afflalo and regular Chauncey Billups, who finished with 13 points and 11 assists.

Rasheed Wallace also scored 13 points and reserve Jason Maxiell had 15 for the Pistons.

Miami, with the worst record in the league, was led by rookie reserve Blake Ahearn with 15 points.

The Heat jumped out to a 17-12 lead in the first quarter and were ahead 38-29 in the second quarter on Ahearn's three-pointer before the Pistons rallied. They finally took the lead for keeps midway the third quarter.

"We should have attacked the post a little more," Afflalo told reporters when asked about the slow start. "But we made some adjustments in the locker room and had a better second half."

(Writing by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford)