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Flip Saunders's old team, the Pistons, beat Coach's new team, the Wizards, for fourth time

Wizards forward Al Thornton managed 16 points against the Pistons, but just four came after halftime in the 14-point loss.
Wizards forward Al Thornton managed 16 points against the Pistons, but just four came after halftime in the 14-point loss. (Photos By Paul Sancya/associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- Before the opening tip on Friday, Detroit Pistons players Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton walked downcourt and embraced Flip Saunders, their former coach. Perhaps for a fleeting moment, Saunders had flashbacks of better days, when he was leading a powerhouse team, including Prince and Hamilton, to three consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals.

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The time apart hasn't been good for Saunders or his former players, as all of them are with teams mired among the dregs of the league and headed for the NBA draft lottery. But if the Pistons can take anything from this season, it's that they never lost to Saunders and the Wizards.

Washington's 101-87 defeat gave Detroit its first sweep of the Wizards in a four-game season series since 2004-05. The Wizards (21-42) lost their sixth game in a row -- matching their longest losing streak of the season -- and guaranteed the franchise's second consecutive losing campaign.

"That's tough to lose to any Eastern Conference team four times in a row," Andray Blatche said after scoring a game-high 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. "You should get at least one out of the four. The thing about it is, we know we have them next year and we can get payback."

As the closing seconds wound down, the Pistons added to the humiliation. Point guard Will Bynum, starting in place of Rodney Stuckey, picked up his career-high 20th assist with 3.2 seconds remaining, when Ben Gordon buried a long jumper and stumbled into the Wizards' bench.

The shot infuriated Wizards assistant coach Randy Wittman, who shouted toward the Pistons' bench. Pistons Coach John Kuester later apologized as he headed to the locker room. Asked afterward if he was upset, Blatche said: "You can be, but you can't be. Guys in this league, they got their own accomplishments that they're trying to meet. It's our job to stop them. If they make a play at the end of the game like that, that's our fault. We can't criticize them because of it. It's part of the game."

If anything, the Wizards should be upset with how they played for the entire night, as they looked like a tired, ragged team on the second of games on three consecutive nights. The mental and physical fatigue contributed to the Wizards committing 17 turnovers, which led to 24 points for the Pistons.

The Wizards' ball-control woes started early and continued throughout the night. Blatche went up for a shot attempt but the ball squirted from his hands. He was called for traveling after catching the air ball, and Hamilton buried a jumper on the other end. After cutting down a 17-point first-half deficit to nine in the third period, the Wizards couldn't move any closer as Al Thornton threw a terrible-cross court pass that Randy Foye was unable to recover.

"It seems like every game we lose is because of turnovers," said Foye, who dished out a team-high eight assists but also led the team with four turnovers.

Saunders's frustration could've been summed up early in the fourth quarter. He had just drawn up a play during a timeout. But as he walked up the sideline, he watched Nick Young throw the ball away and foul Gordon. Saunders threw the piece of paper aside, lifted his hands and chuckled to himself as he walked to the end of the bench.

"It's tough," Saunders said. "We've got guys now that are playing different roles for extended periods and when you do that, the longer you play, your deficiencies become exploited a little bit. We have some guys going out there competing, but we've had stupid mental mistakes and emotionally, it just wears you down."

The Wizards will play the Southeast Division-leading Orlando Magic on Saturday at Verizon Center. A day after scoring a career-high 20 points with nine rebounds, JaVale McGee was held in check as the Pistons boxed him out and kept him away from the basket. McGee scored just four points with four rebounds in 23 minutes.

"JaVale, as good as we thought he was last night -- some would say the guy's got all-star potential -- he might've been able to be a CBA all-star, if that," Saunders said. "As good as he was last night, he was that bad tonight. He had no energy, so we had no presence around the basket and they just outworked us."

Prince, Hamilton and rookie forward Jonas Jerebko each had 18 points for the Pistons (23-42), who had 28 fast-break points and five players score in double figures. Gordon had 17 points. The undersize Jason Maxiell had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, and was most responsible for neutralizing McGee.

"It was real frustrating, just have to fight through it," McGee said. "It's very tough, but the good thing about the NBA, got another game tomorrow. I didn't play a lot this game. It was sort of a rest."


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