December 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Terry Foster

For one night, at least, Palace comes alive

Auburn Hills -- The Palace was alive again Friday night just the way the Pistons like it and just the way LeBron James remembered it when he watched games as an 18-year-old.

He came to games to see the champion Pistons and Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace and Rip Hamilton. They were the headliners back then. He is the headliner today.

"It seems like you are asking me a question you already know the answer to," James said when he was asked about his visits to the Palace. "The atmosphere was unbelievable. The arena was one of the best sports had to offer."

They played Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" after the Pistons beat the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on a cold Friday night at The Palace. Fans stood and cheered the Pistons' 109-99 victory over the Heat and clapped in unison as the Heat were closed out by Will Bynum (25 points and 10 assists) of all people.

"I forgot what good and exciting basketball was like," gushed one woman as she left The Palace.

It's been boring out here for the most part. James admitted visits to The Palace are not the same when he battled the Wallace- and Billups-led Pistons. When the Pistons are good the Palace becomes a destination. When the Pistons are bad it becomes distant.

A legit sellout

The Pistons (10-22) moved past Sacramento on Friday for worst attendance in the NBA (13,266 fans per game) but that is not the end of the story. Fans have reportedly bought tickets on the secondary market for as low as $3 and others bragged about getting courtside seats for less than $100.

This wasn't one of those nights. The Pistons sold out the Palace with 22,076 fans, and it was a legit sellout.

Everybody who is a Pistons fan will claim they were here to watch Austin Daye hang from the rim and Charlie Villanueva bust 18 points on the Heat. It was a night to remember following too many nights to forget.

The dead Palace came alive Friday because there was actually something to see. There was new and fresh star power in the building rather than the dull and stale Motown acts that half the audience doesn't know. Even with Dwyane Wade suspended for the game, James (35 points) provided enough action for the crowd to enjoy.

"You've seen we have great energy when we have a packed house," said Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, who sounded like a promoter. "This is a partnership. We need these fans but we've got to earn their trust."

They came to see the Heat, a team which is the Fab Five and Beatles all rolled into one. You might not like the act, but you cannot ignore it.

'You can't fool Detroit'

This is the way Heat forward Shane Battier remembers The Palace when he saw Michael Jordan battle the Bad Boys in his youth while growing up in suburban Detroit.

If there is a product his city will show up. If there is nothing to see, they stay home.

"The thing about this city is you can't fool this city into cheering for you," Battier said. "You've got to earn it. You got to earn it with grit and teamwork and hard work.

"That is why the great Piston teams were so celebrated and that is why the Red Wings were so celebrated. The Tigers are grinders. The formula in this city is a little different than in others. You can't fool Detroit."

The loss did not surprise Battier.

"There is always a buzz about the air when we come to town," Battier said. "The venue is always sold out. What we find is teams play a lot better against us. We know we are going to get a team's best effort."

Oh and there was one more message from Frank.

Come back.

Pistons rookie Andre Drummond hugs Will Bynum, who scored 25 points coming off the bench, after Detroit's upset Miami at The Palace of Auburn Hills Friday. / Clarence Tabb, Jr./Detroit News
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