The Detroit Pistons have been searching for reliable backups for All-Star guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton for years.
They might finally have found them.
With Hamilton sidelined with a sore hip, rookies Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo stepped up to help the Pistons end Phoenix's seven-game winning streak with a 110-105 overtime victory last night at Auburn Hills, Mich.
Reserve guard Juan Dixon (calf) was also out, and Lindsey Hunter only had played once since Christmas, so there was a lot riding on the rookies. Afflalo started and played tough defense on Steve Nash, while Stuckey provided key offense in the second half and overtime.
"This game is another vindication for the young guys," said Billups, who scored 9 of his 32 points in OT. "I have an unbelievable amount of confidence in those guys."
Stuckey hit three jumpers in 60 seconds to give Detroit an 80-73 lead with 11:11 to play, and kept the final possession of regulation alive with an offensive rebound.
"That's easily the best game he's had," Billups said. "He hit some shots, he played good defense, and he got some tough rebounds."
For the Suns, the loss was doubly frustrating since they face the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics tomorrow.
"This would have been huge for us in the Western Conference, but it obviously wasn't in the cards," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Now we have to go to Boston and try to get one there."
Phoenix was unhappy with the officiating all night - Amare Stoudemire picked up a technical in the first quarter - but it was especially disappointed in some late calls.
First, a foul on Nash resulted in Billups's 3-point play that gave the Pistons a 107-105 lead with 1:01 left in overtime.
"I think he panicked," Nash said of the official. "He kind of stuttered and then he said: 'You were underneath him.' It's tough to take when you feel like you played well enough to win, but you feel like the win was taken away from you."
After Nash missed a shot, Shaquille O'Neal fouled Antonio McDyess on the rebound and McDyess hit both free throws to give the Pistons a 4-point advantage.
"I would have liked to see some consistency in the calls," O'Neal said. "They [the Pistons] had help, there's no two ways about it."
Wallace had 23 points and nine rebounds for Detroit, while Stoudemire led Phoenix with 33.
Rockets 108, Kings 100 - Rafer Alston scored 28 points and Tracy McGrady added 17 as host Houston gave coach Rick Adelman his 800th career victory.
"I know that when you hit something like that, you really think about all the good things that happen to you," said Adelman, who also coached the Kings and Trail Blazers.
"I have been really fortunate to have three different teams that are very, very good and that's why you get wins like that."
Shane Battier added 15 points for the Rockets, who won for the second time in five games since the Celtics ended their 22-game winning streak last Tuesday.
Kevin Martin scored 18, and Ron Artest and Francisco Garcia had 17 apiece to lead the Kings, who've lost eight of their last nine road games. Sacramento allowed 100 points for the 17th time in 18 games as Houston shot 50 percent from the field.
The Rockets led by 8 midway through the fourth quarter, but baskets by Quincy Douby and John Salmons cut the lead in half. Artest scored inside with 4:13 left to pull Sacramento within 91-89.
Rookie Carl Landry answered with a basket inside and Alston then hit two free throws and flipped in a one-handed shot from the baseline as the Rockets took control for good.
Nets 106, Knicks 91 - Vince Carter scored 27 points, Richard Jefferson added 26, and visiting New Jersey moved within one game of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey beat its cross-Hudson rivals for the first time this season after three losses. "We weren't really thinking about a sweep," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "Regardless of who we play, we need to win as many games as possible. So, this was just game one of 12 [remaining]."
Nenad Krstic added 22 points for the Nets, who are a half-game ahead of Indiana (29-41) and one game behind Atlanta (30-39) in the conference standings. Heat 78, Bucks 73 - Chris Quinn, filling in for injured Jason Williams, scored a career-high 24 points to lead host Miami.
"Chris is accomplished and he's been working hard at it," coach Pat Riley said. "You can see the improvement in the game and the confidence."
Quinn drew a foul on Mo Williams with 45 seconds left and knocked down two free throws to give Miami a 74-71 lead.
Michael Redd, who scored 24 points to lead the Bucks, had his shot blocked by Joel Anthony on the ensuing possession.
Nuggets 120, Grizzlies 106 - Allen Iverson had 26 points and seven assists and Carmelo Anthony finished with 23 points as Denver used a big second half to defeat host Memphis.
J.R. Smith led the Nuggets, scoring 25 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, as Denver stretched the lead to as many as 22 in winning its third straight.
SuperSonics 97, Trail Blazers 84 - Kevin Durant scored 23 points and host Seattle snapped its 11-game losing streak.
Damien Wilkins added 20 points off the bench, and rookie Jeff Green had 16 points.
Lakers 123, Warriors 119 - Lamar Odom made the go-ahead layup with 9 seconds left in overtime, and Los Angeles shook off Golden State's frantic regulation rally to hang on at Oakland, Calif.