AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — A season of higher-then-usual expectations for the Washington Wizards got underway in a place they have struggled against a team that has given them fits. And in a 48-minute display of incoherent offense and indifferent defense against the Detroit Pistons, the Wizards received a much-needed education in what they cannot do if they want to have their usual April vacations delayed by the playoffs.
The Wizards lost, 113-102, in a game that left Coach Randy Wittman flustered as he watched his team give up a flurry of layups and dunks to the Pistons and settle for unsightly jumpers early in the shot clock. Washington finally shuttled out its desired core trio of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Nene for the first time in a season opener and also welcomed a new physical presence in the middle in Marcin Gortat, but none of those pieces could solve the team’s continued problems against the Pistons.
“We got to play with a purpose. You just don’t go out to play this game and hope to win,” Wittman said. “To win games in this league, you’ve got to go out with a purpose and go out and do and stick to that. It almost looked like we went, from a defensive standpoint, looked like we just went out and played a pickup game.”
Trevor Ariza led all scorers with 28 points and made six three-pointers, coming within one of matching his career high. Beal and Wall combined to score 37 points, but they needed to take 39 shots to reach that total, and neither found an answer for the Pistons’ defensive scheme.
Former Georgetown star Greg Monroe offered a clinic in the low post with his deft footwork and left-handed hook shots and finished with 24 points and a game-high 16 rebounds for the Pistons.
In his debut, Gortat finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench, helping his new team rally from a 15-point second-half deficit to get within four points with 7 minutes 43 seconds remaining, when he made a ridiculous layup by slapping for a rebound. But despite a few futile rallies, the Wizards were unable to avoid losing their seventh consecutive game against the Pistons. Washington lost all four meetings with Detroit last season when the teams finished tied with 29 wins.
“It was the first time. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to play with the team. I try to help as much as I can,” said Gortat, who was acquired from Phoenix on Friday and had only three practices with the team. “First of all, we are a good team. We know we are a good team, and we have to come out to play from the first minute. A lot of positive things in this game, and I believe the next game we’ll come out ready to play.”
The Wizards went 6-2 last season with Wall, Beal and Nene together in the starting lineup, a mark that reflected promise for what the team could become but also how much the three players struggled to stay healthy. But with the Pistons focused on containing Wall and Beal, Ariza was left open for his fair share of open looks. Fortunately for the Wizards, he was able to convert them. Ariza made four three-pointers and was responsible for 14 of the team’s 22 first-quarter points. Ariza also led the Wizards with 10 rebounds.
“I always feel like it’s more I could’ve done,” Ariza said.
Wall finished with 20 points and 11 assists, but the Pistons were content with sagging and daring Wall to shoot jumpers. Stubbornly, Wall continued to accept the challenge with mediocre results, going 8 of 21 from the field. “I think I was just settling in the first half, trying to shoot jump shot after jump shot,” Wall said. “You just got to stay confident and keep shooting. That’s one thing: I’m not going to let one game stop me. I got to do a better job of leading my team and getting good shots.”
The Pistons hit Beal with an unusual defense, trapping him in the corner and forcing him to get rid of the ball or take difficult shots. Beal finished with 17 points on just 6-for-18 shooting. “Those are shots I usually make, which made frustrated,” Beal said. “I really got to come out more aggressive. It’s unacceptable for the way I played. I wasn’t satisfied at all with the way I played.”
Both the Pistons and Wizards had active offseasons, with the organizations making moves they believe will help them end lengthy playoff droughts.
The game provided an opportunity for them to measure where they are against each other — and the Pistons came out ahead behind a young, dominant front line featuring Monroe and Andre Drummond, who helped the Pistons outscore the Wizards 32-4 in the paint in the first half.
Josh Smith, a free agent pickup from Atlanta, had 19 points and added an impressive blocked shot as Gortat attempted to dunk in the third quarter. Veteran Chauncey Billups, back at 37 for his second stint with the organization he led to the 2004 NBA championship, added 16 points, with 10 coming in the fourth quarter to stave off the Wizards’ runs.
“I’m definitely confident,” Wall said when asked about the Wizards’ future. “It was just one night we all didn’t do what we was supposed to. And I didn’t do a good job leading my team. But we’re very focused. We got 81 more games to go.”