By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., Dec. 17 -- The Washington Wizards were hovering within striking distance of the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night when a pair of turnovers turned the game completely and led to an easy 88-74 Detroit victory.
The first came when guard Mike James, who was making his first start as a Wizard, had a miscommunication with forward Caron Butler. James expected Butler to post up. Instead, Butler popped out and James's pass was picked off by Detroit's Tayshaun Prince.
Rodney Stuckey then scored to give the Pistons a 12-point lead. On Washington's next possession, Butler was looking to make a pass to the wing but notorious ball hawk Allen Iverson shot the lane, picked it off and raced the other way for two of his game-high 28 points.
"That was the turning point right there," said James, who scored a team-high 16 points with two assists and the one turnover. "The crowd got into it, they fed off that and the rest was history."
The Wizards (4-19) have dropped four straight -- all by double digits -- since a home win over Detroit on Dec. 9.
Suddenly, with interim coach Ed Tapscott running the show and a new face like James starting and playing crunch-time minutes, the Wizards more resemble a group of strangers thrown together for a recreational league tournament than an NBA squad that had a full training camp, preseason and opening two months of the season to work things out.
On Wednesday night, they shot a season-worst 33.3 percent, made only 4 of 13 three-point attempts, scored a season-low 74 points and broke down defensively as the Pistons managed to score three layups in the final 2 minutes 48 seconds.
Butler, who scored 33 points in last week's 107-94 win over the Pistons, hit his first shot Wednesday night -- a tough fadeaway over Richard Hamilton -- but that proved to be his only field goal.
Butler looked out of sorts all night and finished with a season-low five points on 1-of-4 shooting, with five rebounds, four assists and six turnovers in 36 minutes. Fellow all-star Antawn Jamison didn't fare much better except that unlike Butler, Jamison also managed to get injured.
Jamison, who played 41 minutes despite spraining his left thumb early in the first quarter, finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds but made only 5 of 18 shots and didn't have an assist. The thumb was swollen after the game and Jamison said he was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam when the team returned to Washington.
Detroit (14-9) has won three straight since losing at Washington last week and clearly came into the game with a defensive mind-set. From the beginning, they collapsed on Butler and Jamison, cut off driving lanes and made the Wizards consistently take contested shots.
Then, when the game was on the line, they forced the two crucial turnovers.
"It is going to be tough for anybody to beat us if we play defense like this," said Iverson, who is steadily adjusting to life as a Piston after coming from Denver in a trade for Chauncey Billups on Nov. 3. "If we lock down and play defense like this, it's going to be tough. We absolutely know we can do it, so there is no excuse for not doing it."
After Butler's first jumper, the Wizards fell behind 10-2 early and essentially spent the remainder of the game playing catch-up, a common theme all season. They trailed 44-34 at halftime but had life entering the fourth quarter after Nick Young closed the third with a length-of-court drive and score to beat the buzzer.
Detroit led by only six with 5:47 to play when Iverson drove and found Antonio McDyess for a layup and then followed misses by Andray Blatche (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Jamison by driving and passing out to a wide-open Tayshaun Prince, who drained a 20-foot jumper.
"Once again, guys where out there battling away," said Tapscott, who dropped to 3-9 since replacing Eddie Jordan. "I thought the only time we sagged was in the last three or four minutes when we made some mistakes and let things get away. We have to find a way there to say, 'Look, we're still in this, let's go.' "
Wizards Notes: Rookie center JaVale McGee, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Blatche on Monday, played only three first-half minutes, his lightest action since not getting off the bench in a Nov. 1 loss at Detroit. . . . The Wizards have lost twice each to the Pistons, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks.