AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The only difference was the coaches.

Richard Hamilton scored 37 points to lead the Detroit Pistons past the Philadelphia 76ers 108-88 on Wednesday night in a game that looked a lot like their first-round series six months ago.

With Flip Saunders taking Larry Brown’s place in Detroit and Maurice Cheeks replacing Jim O’Brien, the Pistons were still too tough on defense and balanced on offense for the Sixers.

Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson scored 31 points, but he didn’t have much help – much like in Detroit’s 4-1 series victory en route to its second straight trip to the NBA Finals.

Chris Webber had 16 points, but he was scoreless in the third quarter, and the other three starters failed to score more than eight.

The Pistons unveiled their 2005 conference championship banner before the game, then took control for good in the first quarter.

Detroit, which never trailed, led by 10 midway through the quarter while holding the Sixers to 2 of 13 shooting and maintained the cushion easily throughout its season opener.

Philadelphia lost to Milwaukee 117-108 in overtime at home on Tuesday night, opening night in the NBA.

Perhaps the back-to-back games wore down the Sixers, who appeared to be a step slow against a team that is motivated to prove it will not take a step back without a Hall of Fame coach.

The Pistons say they can still be relentless on defense, one of Brown’s trademarks, with a better offense with Saunders on the sideline.

They showed a glimpse of that combination when Rasheed Wallace blocked two shots on one possession, leading to Tayshaun Prince’s alley-oop dunk on a pass from Hamilton in the first quarter.

Iverson looked and sounded frustrated midway through the third quarter.

He screamed at Andre Iguodala for not passing him the ball, then shouted, “Hey!” to his other teammates as Prince beat the Sixers back down the court for an easy dunk and a 65-50 lead midway through the third quarter.

Prince finished with 16 points, Chauncey Billups had 12 points and 10 assists and five other Pistons scored at least six.

Philadelphia reserve John Salmons scored 13.

Notes: There was a moment of silence before the game for Rosa Parks, who had a seven-hour funeral Wednesday in Detroit. … Webber’s jersey at Detroit Country Day High School was retired Wednesday morning.

AP-ES-11-02-05 2249EST


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