LOS ANGELES -- Rasheed Wallace's latest suspension came at a perfect time for the Los Angeles Clippers. They just weren't able to take advantage because the rest of the Detroit Pistons were too much to handle.
Richard Hamilton scored 15 of his 23 points in the first quarter, sparking the Pistons to a 98-80 victory Sunday. The All-Star shooting guard made his first eight shots and was 10-for-12 from the field overall, helping the Eastern Conference leaders beat the Clippers for the ninth straight time and 18th in the last 22 meetings.
"The last time Rasheed was out, I think I shot the ball three times, Chauncey (Billups) shot it four times, and we didn't play our type of game," Hamilton said. "But today we just wanted to do what we do best."
Wallace was suspended without pay for receiving his 16th technical foul of the season from referee Bob Delaney during Friday night's victory at Denver. Players and coaches are allowed 15 technicals before the automatic suspensions kicks in. Every other technical after that also results in a one-game ban.
Second-year forward Jason Maxiell started in Wallace's place. He scored nine points, blocked four shots and had two steals in 35-plus minutes. The Pistons forced 20 turnovers, converting them into 30 points. Elton Brand and Chris Kaman each had five turnovers.
"Our bigs around the basket were hesitant and they gave the defense time to get to them," Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy said. "They didn't recognize when they had a chance to score, and they got stripped a lot. I'm really disappointed in our toughness right now -- mental and physical."
Corey Maggette scored 19 points for the Clippers. Brand, who didn't play in the team's 92-74 loss to the Pistons on Feb. 12 because of back spasms, had 11 points and 12 rebounds on his 28th birthday.
Wallace was the latest on a long list of key opponents the Clippers have been able to avoid this season because of injuries, suspensions, day-of-game trades -- and, in the case of Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, sudden leaves of absence.
Shaquille O'Neal missed both of Miami's losses to the Clippers. Sidekick Dwyane Wade sat out one of them as well, the same day assistant coach Ron Rothstein began filling in for Riley. That same day, Miami forwards Antoine Walker and James Posey were deactivated over their failure to meet team body-fat standards.
Both Clippers' wins over Boston came with Paul Pierce sidelined. They also beat Milwaukee without having to face Michael Redd, Chicago with Ben Wallace injured, Dallas with Josh Howard on the bench, and Houston without Tracy McGrady -- a game that became much easier when Yao Ming broke his leg six minutes after the opening tip.
Then there was the victory over Golden State on Jan. 17, the same day a blockbuster trade with Indiana left the Warriors with only seven healthy players.
The Clippers also won games in which they dodged Peja Stojakovic, Baron Davis and Steve Francis. On the negative side, Seattle beat them without Ray Allen, San Antonio without Tony Parker, Golden State without Jason Richardson, Utah without Andrei Kirilenko, Houston without McGrady, and Toronto without Chris Bosh.
"We just play as a unit, and whoever's rolling we just try to keep him going," Billups said. "Rip was great. He's our main option and he kept us afloat early."
Hamilton made all seven of his shots in the first quarter, four of them from at least 20 feet to help Detroit take a 47-43 halftime lead. Billups, 0-for-12 from 3-point range over his previous three games, ended the half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from 34 feet after Brand missed an 18-footer that would have put Los Angeles ahead.
"That was big for him and big for his confidence," Hamilton said. "It was also big for us because it gave us momentum going into the second half."
The Pistons remained in front the rest of the way, scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter and opening up a 61-44 lead on a hook shot by Tayshaun Prince with 4:52 left in the period.
Dunleavy was ejected by referee Dan Crawford with 9:08 left in the third, after Maggette went down in a heap after driving to the basket against Prince and didn't draw a foul call. Assistant coach Jim Eyen, who also worked under Dunleavy with the Lakers, Milwaukee and Portland, directed the Clippers the rest of the way.
"It was frustration on my part," Dunleavy said. "I was trying to make a point across to my guys to be more emotional, be more into it, be more aggressive and pick up their intensity."
Los Angeles got to 86-76 on Tim Thomas' 3-pointer with 3:54 to play, but the Pistons responded with a 10-0 run capped by two dunks by Webber.
- Hamilton is second among the Pistons with 11 technical fouls. Wallace, whose suspension cost him $146,341 in salary, set a record with 38 technicals in 1999-2000 with Portland and eclipsed that mark the following season with 40.