By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011; 12:03 AM
AUBURN HILLS, MICH. - The conditions were far from ideal for the Washington Wizards leading up to their game against the Detroit Pistons. They pulled out an emotional win over Minnesota on Saturday night - helping Coach Flip Saunders escape for a moment the pain he felt for losing his mother the day before - but a light snowstorm disrupted the Wizards' travel plans and dampened the mood some.
The inclement weather diverted the plane and forced them to fly into Detroit instead of their usual jaunt into Pontiac, which is about a 10-minute trip from the team hotel in Birmingham.
When they arrived in Detroit, the Wizards had to walk from the very last gate to the opposite end of the concourse and wait for nearly an hour for the buses, which had been waiting in Pontiac, to arrive. Then, they took an almost 45-minute ride to the hotel. By the time they checked into the hotel, it was about 3 a.m.
They already knew that they'd be without Saunders, who attended his mother's wake - along with son and assistant Ryan - in suburban Cleveland while Randy Wittman led the team for the third time this season and second time in the past three games.
But veteran forwards Josh Howard (left hamstring) and Rashard Lewis (right knee tendinitis) were also sidelined. With so much working against them, a 113-102 loss to the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills was hardly surprising.
"The main thing, I think, a couple of guys were tired after the back-to-back, but it's not no excuse to have," Andray Blatche said after the Wizards (16-46) dropped to 1-29 away from Verizon Center. "We got in late. I know I wasn't able to go to sleep until five in the morning. We had a meeting and I kept waking up, so I wouldn't miss the meeting. I don't know. We gave ourselves chances to win, but we made the same mistakes. Mental mistakes. That's all it was. Any time we got close, we made a mental mistake."
Nick Young returned after missing the previous game with flu-like symptoms and finished with 21 points. But he admitted that he was a little winded early in the game. "It was tough," he said. "I wanted to sit myself out the first five minutes. I couldn't stop breathing. My nose was running, but I kept going. I just wanted to run this cold out, run this cold out. It was hard for all of us. Everybody was a little down."
Young brought the Wizards within five points in the fourth quarter when he drove inside, nearly lost the ball as Pistons reserve Will Bynum tried to snatch it from him, and managed to throw in a bank shot over his shoulder. John Wall added two free throws to bring the Wizards to 89-86 in the fourth quarter, but the Pistons outscored them 20-10 over the next six minutes, with Tayshaun Prince hitting a 16-foot jumper with 48.3 seconds remaining to end all suspense.
Prince, back after missing the previous four games with a hip injury, led seven different Pistons in double figures with 20 points. The Pistons (23-41) have had their own problems this season, with an alleged player-orchestrated boycott taking place during a shoot-around in Philadelphia less than two weeks ago. But one thing that they can count on is continued success against the Wizards, who have lost eight consecutive games against them overall, and seven in a row at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Wall didn't shoot the ball particularly well, but his aggression and commitment to running nearly every time he got the ball was rewarded with repeated trips to the foul line. Wall finished with a game-high 24 points, missing nine of his 15 shots, but making 12 of 13 free throws. He also had seven of the Wizards' 15 assists.
Blatche (21 points) continued his solid play in the month of March, as he scored at least 20 points for the third game in a row, and had a team-high nine rebounds. JaVale McGee had 12 points, but only grabbed two rebounds, and Trevor Booker had 10 points and just three rebounds.
The Wizards allowed the Pistons to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor, and were outrebounded, 45-29. "We have been getting hammered on the boards lately and that's something we have to adjust," Wittman said. "We don't have a guy like Kevin Love or guys that are going to get 20 rebounds by themselves, so as a team, we need five guys on the floor rebounding. To get outrebounded 45-29 by this team, I don't think that's acceptable."
Pistons reserve Charlie Villanueva (16 points) gave his team a 41-29 lead when he hit his second of three three-pointers in the second period. The Wizards were able to battle back, using an 8-0 run to get within 50-49 when Wall found Young in the corner for a three-pointer. Wall celebrated by skipping down the court and screaming, "Woo!" But the Pistons came back out of a timeout and scored the next 10 points and the Wizards had to play uphill for the rest of the night.
"That same exact run, was reoccurring all throughout the night," said Maurice Evans, who found out that he'd get his first start with the team only moments before tip-off. "We'd come back, cut it to five or three and then something unfortunate would happen, be it shot selection or giving them easy transition buckets to build the lead back up. We didn't come out and play with the same energy and play together, like we did" against Minnesota.