The Washington Wizards say that this is no time to panic, that they can get over this latest obstacle as they have so many others. But after losing to the Detroit Pistons, 105-96, last night before 16,843 at MCI Center, the Wizards were faced with their first three-game losing streak of the season.
"There are no panic buttons being pushed," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It is a fact of the NBA; it is going to happen for most teams. We always say we have to bounce back and see what we are made of when we are in a situation like this."
The Pistons pull away from Juan Dixon, center, and Washington in the fourth quarter to send the Wizards to their third consecutive loss, 105-96, Tuesday.
(Lawrence Jackson - AP)
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The Wizards (26-18) have lost eight consecutive games against the Pistons and eight in a row at home against them. With four former Wizards players (Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Darvin Ham) and a former head coach (Gar Heard) serving as an assistant, the Pistons should feel right at home in Washington. The defending NBA champions even visited President Bush on Monday at the White House.
The Pistons (27-18) have won four in a row and moved into first place in the Central Division. They are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to win at MCI Center this season -- Orlando and Miami are the others. Four of the Wizards' seven home losses this season have come against the Pistons and Heat.
Point guard Chauncey Billups scored led four Pistons in double figures with 28 points, with eight coming during a game-shifting 11-2 run in the fourth quarter, as Detroit became the second team to win twice on the road against the Wizards.
Washington is 4-5 without guard Larry Hughes, who is sidelined by a broken thumb. "We're going to be fine," Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said after he scored a team-high 26 points. "There are going to be highs and lows throughout the course of the season. This is a low."
In their first meeting on Dec. 29, the Pistons rallied from a 19-point deficit to defeat the Wizards, 107-105, when Billups sank a jumper just inside the foul line with seven-tenths of a second remaining. Point guard Gilbert Arenas called it his worst loss as a professional, saying he had not felt that poorly since was in college at Arizona and lost in the NCAA championship game against Duke in 2001.
This one didn't feel much better as the Wizards collapsed in the final 5 minutes 52 seconds, when they were outscored 20-11. Arenas didn't even want to speak afterward.
"I got to go," he said, darting past reporters as they entered the locker room.
Arenas scored 21 points, ending his string of games with at least 30 points at five. He attempted more three-pointers (11) than free throws (four), as the Pistons were intent on keeping him out on the perimeter. "Every team is going to use the same tactic on Gilbert to keep him from going crazy," Jamison said. "But this is the world champs, they know how to clamp down defensively."
Arenas, however, provided the highlight of the game with eight seconds left in the third quarter, when he scooted between all five Pistons defenders for the length of the court, then found Michael Ruffin underneath the basket for a two-handed dunk as the horn sounded to give the Wizards a 75-70 lead.
Arenas tied the game at 85 with a 17-foot jumper, but after a free throw by Antonio McDyess, Billups stole the ball from Jamison and connected on a three-point play. Wizards center Brendan Haywood fouled out when he was called for an offensive foul -- which negated a Juan Dixon layup -- and Billups made a deep three-pointer to give the Pistons a 92-85 lead.
"Chauncey Billups is one of the best big-game shooters in the league," Jamison said.
The Wizards dropped to 11-3 at home when leading after three quarters -- the Pistons are responsible for two of those losses. Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince had 25 points and guard Hamilton scored 23. Rasheed Wallace had 18 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
Wizards forward Jared Jeffries scored 11 points and added a career-high four blocks but the Wizards lost for the first time when Jeffries scored in double figures.
"All great things come to an end," Jeffries said jokingly. "It was bound to happen."
Jeffries was more upset that the Wizards were outperformed in the fourth quarter for the third consecutive game.
"I think that's something we did for a long time. We really tried to turn it up in the fourth," he said. "Right now, things aren't going our way. It's tough, because when we lost the two in a row in Texas, it was really bad, we got blown out. But it's a different feeling when you feel like you should've won these games. Two or three plays, we could've won."
Dixon said there is an easy solution for the Wizards' woes of late. "Win the next one," he said.