By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 13, 2008
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The Washington Wizards received some much-needed help Friday night with losses by Cleveland and Philadelphia.
The only problem was that the Wizards didn't help themselves during an ugly 102-74 loss to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
In losing the season series with the Pistons 2-1, the Wizards shot a season-low 27.1 percent and couldn't handle the muscle and energy of Detroit reserve Jason Maxiell, who scored a career-high 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting.
While Maxiell dominated the paint, Washington's big three of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were consistently taken out of their games by a determined Pistons defense and shot a combined 10 of 34 .
"We didn't meet them on a physical level," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "They just pounded us and we didn't have an answer. Their switching defense, their length and their physical play just really took us out of our offense."
With three regular season games to play, the Wizards (41-38) remain in fifth place but lead Philadelphia and Toronto by only one game. They trail fourth-place Cleveland by two games.
A victory Friday night would have opened the door for the Wizards to possibly overtake the Cavaliers and earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Now, the Wizards must scrap to avoid dropping as far as seventh, a fate that would set up a distasteful first-round matchup with the Pistons, who sent a message with a physically dominant performance Friday night.
On Saturday night, the Wizards face a crucial game against the 76ers, who lead the season series between the teams 2-1. A win would give the Wizards a potentially crucial tiebreaker advantage based on a superior division record.
"We did get some help tonight by the fact that they lost but we didn't capitalize on it and well, it looks like tomorrow is going to be like a playoff game because if we lose, we put the cards in the 76ers' hands," said center Brendan Haywood, who finished with seven points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes. "We can't have that."
The Wizards also can't afford to have a beat-up team, but both Butler and starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson were injured during Friday's loss.
Butler limped off the court at halftime after banging his right knee against Detroit rookie Rodney Stuckey. He returned for the start of the third period but didn't move well and said the knee felt "horrible" after the game.
Stevenson has been bothered by a bruised tailbone since Wednesday's win over Boston. He made his 247th straight start Friday night but went down hard on a foul by Maxiell in the second period and left for good when his back stiffened up in the third quarter.
Stevenson said he would see how he feels before Saturday night's game against Philadelphia. Arenas played his fourth game since returning from a left knee injury but was mostly a non-factor as Pistons guard Chauncey Billups and others swarmed him with tight man-to-man defense each time he touched the ball.
Arenas finished with 10 points on 2-of-8 shooting with one assist and two turnovers in 19 minutes.
In a short span of the second quarter, Maxiell threw down a pair of dunks, scored again with an offensive rebound and putback, and sent a message by laying a hard foul on a driving Stevenson.
Later in the period, the rugged Maxiell, who checks in at 6 feet 7, 260 pounds, showed that he can play the finesse game as well by making a turnaround jump shot over Jamison to give Detroit a 43-30 lead.
The Wizards answered with a run to cut their deficit to 47-42 at the half, but Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince capped a 12-2 push in the third quarter with a three-pointer from the corner and the Wizards never recovered.
Jordan said he was concerned less by how Friday's loss impacted the playoff picture as with how his team performed against one of the league's top teams.
"I don't care about the other stuff, I worry about how we play and how we approach the game and I just thought that we weren't ready to meet up with a physical, championship caliber team tonight," Jordan said. "We all were challenged and they really brought it to us."