Saunders picks up win in return to Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Coach Flip Saunders and his staff were so excited, Rasheed Wallace joked, that they could've donned Detroit's red road uniforms and played themselves.

Just another game? The Pistons acknowledged it wasn't.

Chauncey Billups beat his former team by five points in the third quarter, sparking the streaking Pistons past the Timberwolves 107-83 on Tuesday night -- and giving Saunders a satisfying return to Minnesota.

"It was nice," said Saunders, who was cheered loudly before tipoff. "Coaches do like those kind of games."

Billups finished with 27 points, eight assists and seven rebounds after outscoring the Timberwolves 18-13 by himself in the third.

Antonio McDyess had 16 points, and Tayshaun Prince and Wallace each had 15 points for Detroit (34-5), which won its eighth straight game and showed the bravado of a team with the league's best record.

"That's one of the best teams I've seen assembled, from top to bottom," said Minnesota coach Dwane Casey. "You saw the potential NBA champions in the second half."

Kevin Garnett had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Timberwolves
(19-20), who didn't make a very good impression on their former coach. Saunders was fired last February after taking Minnesota to the playoffs eight times in his 9½ seasons, and this was his first time back at the Target Center.

With such a long tenure here and a surprising dismissal he felt was unfair, Saunders admitted this was an emotional visit. Wanting to win for him -- as well as former Wolves assistants Sidney Lowe and Don Zierden -- the Pistons put on quite a show.

"We couldn't leave it in their hands," Wallace said, referring to a 46-45 halftime lead by the Wolves, who mostly dictated the pace in the first half.

Detroit cranked up that suffocating defense after the break -- turning six Wolves turnovers into 14 points and outscoring them 33-13 in the third quarter. Halftime adjustments have been an important part of the Pistons' success this season, and this game was no different.

Thanks to Billups.

"A lot of his shots," Casey said, "I don't know what else we could have done but tackle him."

Billups drew paychecks from the Timberwolves during the 2000-01 and '01-02 seasons. Committed to oft-injured Terrell Brandon as the point guard at the time, Minnesota wasn't ready to guarantee Billups a starting spot and let him go.

Since signing with the Pistons, he has developed into one of the league's most well-rounded players. After scoring only three points and missing all seven shots from the field in the first half, Billups found his stroke and took over the game.

"He's playing like an MVP right now," Saunders said.

During a dead ball late in the second period, Wallace turned to Casey and barked, "You know he can't guard Chauncey," referring to Minnesota's Marko Jaric. The taunt turned prophetic, when Billups guided Detroit on a 25-8 run that closed the quarter. He made four 3-pointers and had 18 of those points, the last 11 against Anthony Carter after he subbed for Jaric.

Billups was feeling so good, one of his 3-pointers hit the top of the backboard and bounced in. Later, he tried a 30-footer in the final minute of the period that barely hit the rim. Billups smiled on his way back, and Saunders grimaced -- but the damage was done.

"That's a well-oiled machine over there -- hitting on all cylinders," Garnett said.

The game was so out of hand that little-used Darko Milicic, the 20-year-old drafted by the Pistons with the No. 2 pick in 2003, played 5 minutes down the stretch. He got a steal and found a streaking Amir Johnson for a windmill dunk.

The Wolves have blown plenty of double-digit leads this season, but that certainly wasn't a problem. Saunders was sympathetic to his former team.

"I've got a lot of respect for Dwane," Saunders said. "He's going through some growing pains. It's going to take them a little time, but they're going to be OK. As long as you have K.G., you're going to be in every game."

Game notes
Minnesota owner Glen Taylor, well aware the league's best team was in town, peeked his head in Casey's office before the game and asked the coach how he was doing. When Casey returned the question, Taylor laughed and said, "A lot better than you." ...
Johnson, a rookie from Westchester High School in Los Angeles, registered his first career points on the dunk. ... Vikings receiver Travis Taylor and Twins reliever Juan Rincon were spotted in the crowd of 17,232. ... Detroit is 20-1 when scoring 100 or more points.