AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The Detroit Pistons were never going to be favored to reach a seventh straight Eastern Conference final.
On Monday, they made it even more unlikely.
The Pistons blew another fourth-quarter lead in a 91-88 loss to the Chicago Bulls. The defeat means Detroit (39-42) will face top-seeded Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't do a better job tonight," said first-year coach Michael Curry. "We didn't stay disciplined down the stretch. The effort was there, but we have to execute."
Chicago (41-40) leads Philadelphia by a half-game for sixth. The Bulls finish the season Wednesday against Toronto, while the 76ers have to play Boston and Cleveland.
"It's so tight right now that every game is needed," said Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro. "The guys gutted it out in the fourth quarter and got us a big win."
Detroit has lost 12 games after leading going into the fourth quarter and is guaranteed its first losing season since 2000-01.
"Tonight just sums up the way we have been playing the whole season," Antonio McDyess said. "We're up in the fourth and we just let the game go. Playing Cleveland, Boston or Orlando -- it doesn't matter at this point. If we can't do this during the regular season, it is definitely going to be hard to do it in the postseason."
Detroit led by as many as 11 points in the second half, and had a chance to put the game away with 2:23 to play. With the Pistons up 88-85, Brad Miller turned the ball over and picked up his second technical foul of the quarter after arguing the call.
That gave Detroit a chance to expand the lead to six or seven, but Richard Hamilton missed the free throw, then turned the ball over 19 seconds later.
"Obviously, that was an opportunity we blew in a close game, and it cost us," Curry said. "Rip missing that free throw is uncharacteristic, but we never make things easy on ourselves."
After both teams missed, Derrick Rose got out on the fast break and made a layup as Rasheed Wallace fouled him. After he sank the tying free throw, the rookie blocked Rodney Stuckey's shot to give the Bulls the ball with 31 seconds left.
"My teammates were telling me that this was a playoff game and we had to step it up," Rose said. "The three-point play was huge, but our whole team was fighting."
Ben Gordon then put Chicago ahead with a driving layup, and Wallace missed a go-ahead 3-pointer. McDyess got the rebound, but his off-balance fling never came close to the rim.
Rose could only split a pair of free throws, but Detroit was out of timeouts and Stuckey's last-second shot from 60 feet hit the shot clock.
Rose scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, while Gordon added 19. Hamilton led the Pistons with 25 points and Tayshaun Prince added 19.
It appeared the Bulls might get a chance to pull within 84-82 with 5:58 left, but the officials called an offensive foul on Brad Miller and waved off his basket instead of giving him a chance at a three-point play.
Miller was called for his technical for arguing the call, and Hamilton's free throw put Detroit ahead 85-79, but the Pistons couldn't repeat the sequence three minutes later.
"We knew Detroit was going to play a physical game, but it is frustrating when it is called a certain way and you're getting smacked around," Miller said. "Luckily, he missed that free throw and Rose made a heck of a play. This guarantees we avoid Cleveland in the first round, and that's big."
Detroit broke open a tie game with an 8-0 run late in the second quarter, and still held a 56-48 advantage at the intermission. Hamilton had 19 for Detroit, while Prince added 14 on 5-for-5 shooting.
Prince started the third with a 3-pointer, but the Bulls held the Pistons to 29 percent shooting in the period and were within 75-69 going into the final period.
Prince extended his consecutive games streak to six years and 493 games on Monday. He last missed a regular-season game on April 13, 2003 -- his rookie season -- in Memphis. ... Tyrus Thomas picked up a flagrant foul for knocking down Hamilton while frustrated about not getting a call seconds earlier on offense. ... Curry said he hadn't decided how much he will play his rotation players in Wednesday's meaningless season finale against the Heat.
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