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Billups helps Pistons clinch Eastern Conference title

Apr 12, 2007 - 5:18 AM AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- Chauncey Billups and the Detroit Pistons killed two birds with one stone.

Billups collected 28 points and eight assists as the Pistons clinched their second straight Eastern Conference title with a 104-99 triumph over the Orlando Magic.

Detroit (51-27) also wrapped up home-court advantage throughout the entire Eastern playoffs. However, the Pistons were the top seed last season but fell in six games in the conference finals to the Miami Heat, who went on to capture the NBA title.

"With the players Joe (Dumars) brought here and what we've done since we've been here, this is pretty much what we came to play for," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "You know we're not going to celebrate even if we get to the Finals. It's something that we want to accomplish, but at the same time, everyone knows what we're trying to do."

Wednesday's win also helped the Pistons clinch their fifth Central Division crown in six years and completed their first season-series sweep over the Magic (36-42) since the 1991-92 campaign.

With the loss, Orlando's lead for the eighth and final spot in the East was trimmed to just one game over the Indiana Pacers (35-43). Indiana beat Milwaukee earlier Wednesday.

"If we get in the playoffs then we can beat anybody in a series," Orlando guard Jameer Nelson said. "I don't care who it is. That's the way I feel. I'm sure that my teammates, the coaches, the organization feels the same way - whoever we play in the playoffs we can beat."

The Pistons and Magic would meet in the first round of the postseason if Orlando can hold off the Pacers. These two clubs met in the opening round of the postseason during the 2002-03 season, when Detroit battled from a 3-1 deficit to win the series.

Orlando trailed by as many as 18 points before making things interesting when Nelson, who netted 10 straight points at one stage in the fourth quarter, fed former Piston Grant Hill for a jumper to tie the game at 95-95 at the 1:35 mark.

"That's been a problem for us all year," Billups said. "We get teams down and then we get off the pedal a little bit and they get back in the game. Most of the time we end up on top but it's a scary situation to be in.

"Hopefully, when we know the games mean a lot more in the playoffs we won't let that happen. It's something we need to keep our finger on."

But Tayshaun Prince scored on a hook and Billups drained a deep 3-pointer from the left wing over two Orlando defenders with 24 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

"I think we got out of (the game) what we needed to," Saunders said. "We worked on some things. We played well when we needed to play well. For the most part, I thought we played pretty well."

All-Star Richard Hamilton scored 21 points and Prince added 17 for Detroit, which shot 54 percent (41-of-75) from the field and won six of its last seven games.

Hill poured in 22 points and Dwight Howard had 12 and 16 rebounds for the Magic, who have only four games left this season.

"It was a tough loss," Nelson said. "We were more aggressive on offense, and we got back into the game by playing a zone. We had our chances but it's hard to spot a team 18 points and win."

Orlando travels to Philadelphia on Saturday for the finale of its three-game road trip.

"Philadelphia is a big game for us," Brian Hill said. "They can still get into the playoffs, so it's important for us to go in there and win."

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