AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Feb. 12 -- The Washington Wizards will have to face the Detroit Pistons one more time this season, here on April 6. By then, the Wizards hope guard Larry Hughes and forward Kwame Brown will be healthy -- and that the defending champion Pistons will be getting closer to wrapping up one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Because if they are fortunate to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 1997, the Wizards, who possess the fourth seed in the East, don't want to see the Pistons in the first round.
Wizards forward Jared Jeffries tries to pry the ball away from Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, who scored 14 points.
(Carlos Osorio -- AP)
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"If we make it the playoffs, we'll happy to face anybody, frankly," Coach Eddie Jordan said after the Wizards lost, 107-86, Saturday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills, their ninth straight loss to Detroit and third this season.
Point guard Gilbert Arenas had a game-high 24 points to lead the Wizards (30-20), but fellow all-star Antawn Jamison missed 14 of 19 shots from the field and finished with just 14 points.
The Wizards may have arrived in town with a two-to-one edge in players selected for the All-Star Game on Feb. 20 in Denver, but the Pistons proved that they were the better team once again, with six players scoring in double figures. Point guard Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, who were upset that they were snubbed for all-star berths, scored 21 points and 20 points, respectively.
"I know those guys are disappointed, but I hope they take pride in knowing that a lot of guys made the all-star team, not a lot of us have won rings," Pistons Coach Larry Brown said. Ben Wallace, the Pistons' lone all-star, had 13 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks.
After watching the Pistons shoot 53.2 percent, Arenas approached Billups, who was 7 of 9 from the floor, and asked, "Do y'all ever miss?" The Wizards didn't have that problem, as they shot just 36.3 percent. Starters Jared Jeffries, Jarvis Hayes and Brendan Haywood combined to shoot 6 of 24 for just 18 points. The Pistons also turned 18 Wizards turnovers into 20 points.
"They have the real killer instinct," Jordan said. "They feel it, they know when momentum is on their side. They know when teams play mistake basketball, which we did. You turn the ball over, they convert. Then they get at you again. They tighten their defense up, like a constrictor, I guess. They keep squeezing you and squeezing you and they know when to squeeze the life out of you."
"We didn't really come out ready for all of that," said Jeffries, who finished 0 of 8 from the field.
The Pistons already beat the Wizards at MCI Center twice this season, pulling out two gut-wrenching wins. This game lacked much suspense after the Pistons used a 14-0 run to take a 56-39 lead at halftime.
"They are the world champions," Jeffries said. "For us to come out, we had to get off to a good start, which we didn't do. And in the second half, we needed to get off to a better start, which we didn't do again."
"The champions are bringing their 'A' game against us; that shows us where we are," Arenas said. "Eventually, in a couple of months, when we get everybody healthy, we'll be ready to play. We've been an undermanned team the whole season and we've been playing great basketball, without Kwame Brown and we've been without Larry the last 15 games. When they come back, it's going to show us where we are as a team and we shouldn't be getting blown out."
The Pistons are one of just two Eastern Conference teams that the Wizards haven't beaten this season. The Miami Heat has already swept the four-game season series. Jamison said the seven losses against those two teams is a constant reminder of what the Wizards are missing.
"It's still no excuse, but we really need Kwame -- he's big, physical," Jamison said. "And sometimes, you don't realize the importance of one guy until you go through opportunities like this. When we played against Shaq and when we played against this team, the physical teams, we need him. But he's got to make sure he's 100 percent and when he comes back, he can help us."