AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Atlanta Hawks just can’t seem to find a way around the Detroit Pistons.
Chauncey Billups scored 23 points and the Pistons beat Atlanta 91-81 Friday night to remain perfect in three meetings between the teams this season.
"It’s actually tough to play a team three times this early," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said after the sloppy victory. "We beat them pretty good the last time, and we didn’t have our usual sharpness for this one."
The Hawks are 10-9 against the rest of the NBA, but 0-3 against Detroit.
"That’s one of the best teams in the East," said Joe Johnson, who led Atlanta with 23 points. "They’ve got a tough nucleus — their starters and the guys off the bench that give them productive minutes."
Detroit, which got 24 points from the bench, has won eight of its last 10 games.
"That’s been a constant for us," Billups said. "Our bench comes in every night and gives us good energy."
Marvin Williams added 15 for the Hawks, who only dressed 11 players with Josh Childress missing the game with a recurring groin injury and rookie Al Horford suspended for Tuesday’s flagrant foul on Toronto guard T.J. Ford.
"We somewhat missed Childress and Horford tonight, because they could have given us some momentum," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "They hit us early, and we didn’t respond until the third quarter. You can’t get down to a team like Detroit and expect to get back in the game."
Tayshaun Prince finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, taking advantage of Atlanta’s small lineup.
"When they went small, Lindsey (Hunter) was looking for me on post-ups," he said. "We tried to spread the floor and make plays."
Richard Hamilton had 18 points for Detroit, while Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell combined for 15 points and 22 rebounds.
"Dice had a great game and Maxy gave us a lot of energy," Saunders said.
Atlanta stayed close for a quarter, but Detroit pulled away by as many as 17 in the second period before settling for a 47-33 halftime lead.
Hamilton and Billups combined for 22 points in the half, and Detroit dished out 14 assists to just three for the Hawks.
The Hawks came out quickly to start the third, and a technical foul on Rasheed Wallace helped them get within three midway through the quarter.
Maxiell, though, provided a boost of energy, drawing three shooting fouls in quick succession. That stopped Atlanta’s momentum, and Prince’s late 3-pointer gave Detroit a 64-53 lead going into the fourth quarter.
"We got right back in the game, but what hurt us was when they went back up 11," Johnson said. "We spent so much energy to get back into the game that it was tough to go from there."
Billups ended the Hawks’ final surge with a pair of jumpers to make it 78-66 with 3:48 left.NOTES: Before the game, the Pistons traded C Nazr Mohammed to Charlotte for C Primoz Brezec and F Walter Herrmann. To make room on the roster, Detroit waived G Ronald Dupree. Brezec and Herrmann are expected to join the Pistons for Sunday’s home game against Golden State. ... The teams play for the fourth and final time this season in Atlanta on Feb. 12. ... Salim Stoudamire sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter and did not return.