AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) - With the season half over, Pistons coach John Kuester may have finally found a rotation that works.
Rodney Stuckey scored 20 points, and Detroit shot 65 percent in the second half Monday in a 103-89 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. The Pistons have now won three in a row for the first time all season, and Kuester's latest attempt to shake up the lineup appears to be paying dividends.
Detroit has gone with a new starting group for the last four games, with Tracy McGrady at point guard and rookie Greg Monroe at center. Richard Hamilton has been benched entirely over that same span.
``Right now I like what I'm seeing out there,' Kuester said. ``I'm very comfortable with the way this group is playing, and the guys off the bench are doing a great job.'
Dirk Nowitzki scored 32 points for Dallas in his second game back from a sprained right knee. Jason Terry added 18 points, but no other Maverick was in double figures. Dallas has lost six straight.
``Our competitive level has to come up, it is as simple as that,' Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. ``That just wasn't acceptable.'
Kuester has juggled Detroit's lineup plenty already this season, so it remains to be seen how long the Pistons can keep this up, but they played some of their best basketball in the second half Monday. They made 11 straight shots in the third quarter and turned the ball over only once in the last two periods.
Tayshaun Prince added 19 points and rookie Greg Monroe had 16 points and nine rebounds. The Pistons led 41-37 at halftime before turning the game into a surprising rout.
``I think that foundation has finally been set - guys knowing their role in the starting group, guys know their role coming off the bench and as you see, it's just clicking right now,' McGrady said. ``That's something we've been searching for for quite some time and I think we finally found it.'
Dallas, on the other hand, has lost six straight games for the first time in one season since 2000.
Nowitzki returned Saturday night from a nine-game absence, but he was ejected in the third quarter of an 89-70 loss to Memphis. He began making up for lost time right away against the Pistons, scoring 18 points in the first half.
Detroit kept the rest of the Mavericks under control, holding Dallas without a field goal for nearly five minutes and taking a 41-30 lead. Dallas answered by scoring the final seven points of the half, including a 3-pointer and two free throws by Nowitzki.
Nowitzki added eight more points in the third quarter, but the Pistons shot 16 of 22 in the period. An alley-oop from Prince to Chris Wilcox made it 57-47, and a 3-pointer by Ben Gordon put Detroit ahead 75-59.
``We've got the talent to do this, but tonight we didn't get a stop when we needed one, and we couldn't hit a shot when we needed one,' Dallas' Jason Kidd said. ``Defense was always our blueprint for winning, and it isn't there right now.'
The Pistons continued their torrid shooting in the fourth. The 6-foot-11 Monroe stole the ball from guard Jose Barea on the perimeter and dribbled all the way to the other end for a dunk, and a 3-pointer by Charlie Villanueva made it 87-69.
A perimeter shot by Gordon put Detroit ahead 95-75.
Although Nowitzki looked healthy, Dallas was without center Tyson Chandler for a second straight game. He also missed the loss to Memphis with an illness.
Detroit center Ben Wallace sat out with a left ankle injury.
For the fourth straight game, Hamilton didn't play at all - there's been talk he could be traded. Fans chanted, ``We want Rip!' on a couple occasions in the first half.
``It's not a thing that you want, in a way, because you want to be out there playing,' Hamilton said. ``You want them to be cheering for you out there playing. It's just a thing where they just appreciate you.'
The Mavericks' next chance to stop their slide isn't likely to be any easier. They host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, then play at Chicago on Thursday night.
NOTES: Dallas' Sasha Pavlovic left in the second quarter with a broken nose but returned later in the game. ... Prince surpassed 8,000 career points during the first half. ... Gordon addressed the crowd before the game, inviting fans to take a moment to reflect on the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ... Carlisle was asked before the game if Nowitzki's ejection Saturday was out of character. ``The guy must have blown the call pretty bad for that to happen,' Carlisle said.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved