Pistons Will Face Cleveland In Eastern Conference Finals

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DETROIT (AP) -- In more than two decades, just five NBA teams have advanced to five straight conference finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics each had a trio of players headed for the Hall of Fame when they accomplished the feat 20 years ago. Then the Detroit Pistons' Bad Boys did it with a pair of players eventually enshrined.
Michael Jordan is certain to be in the Hall of Fame when eligible and Scottie Pippen will likely join him for helping to lead the Chicago Bulls to the conference finals from 1989-93.
The current Pistons are the fifth team to reach the NBA's final four in five consecutive seasons. There might not be a single Hall of Fame candidate among them -- not that that matters much to one of the enshrined Bad Boys, Joe Dumars.
"I'm really proud of our guys and what they've been able to do over the years," Dumars, who is in his seventh season as Pistons president of basketball operations, told The Associated Press on Friday night. "It's not easy to accomplish something like this, but the cool thing is that none of us are satisfied with simply getting back to the conference finals."
A team-first approach, relying on defense and balanced scoring, has served Detroit well as it has defied the league's dependence on stars for success.
"We play good defense. We play together," point guard Chauncey Billups said Thursday night after Detroit eliminated the Chicago Bulls in Game 6 of the conference semifinals. "We're a great team."
"When we're playing a great player, five players are guarding him, not just one. Offensively, we share the ball and a lot of different people hurt you in a game. That's why we have been so dominant."
The Pistons will have home-court advantage against second-seeded Cleveland, which eliminated New Jersey 88-72 in Game 6 of their semifinal series Friday. Detroit took three of four regular-season games against the Cavaliers.
Detroit will host Game 1 of the conference finals Monday night. The Cavs took the Pistons to seven games in the conference semifinals last year.
"We have a day or two to celebrate," Billups said. "But our goal is to win it all, and getting to the Eastern finals is just on the way."
Since 1984, only the Lakers have been more consistent in the playoffs with a run that ended with a sixth straight conference finals appearance in 1989.
"It's probably something I will enjoy a little later -- not right now," Billups said. "It just shows dominance. We've had a headlock on this conference for a little while now and that validates that."
Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and the team's architect, Dumars, have been a part of each of the five postseason runs -- led by three coaches.
Rasheed Wallace joined the Pistons in 2004 and helped the franchise win its third title. Starting center Chris Webber proved to be the right fit as a midseason acquisition this year for a team needing a boost after losing Ben Wallace to Chicago in free agency.
"It says a lot about Joe D and the organization bringing the mix of right people in here," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.
Saunders was quick to say, however, that Detroit has not reached dynasty status.
"I don't think you ever say 'dynasty' going to Eastern Conference finals," he said. "Dynasties have to do with a lot of championship banners.
"I think it does say something that the team has been successful because they've been able to keep people together. The way the league is with salary-cap issues, it's tough to keep core guys together for more than two or three years."
If the Pistons re-sign Billups -- perhaps the NBA's No. 1 free agent -- this summer, they should have a shot at extending their streak of final four appearances.
But they're clearly focused on only this season and another 'ship -- as Wallace calls championships -- and don't plan to settle for a return trip to the conference finals.
"You can't really enjoy it," Wallace said. "Going to the conference finals is great, but it's like another year for us. You know what I mean? We've done it every year. That's not one of our goals.
"Our goal is to win championships so getting to conference championships is on the way."

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