DETROIT — In this injury-ravaged campaign, the Washington Wizards have often needed to adjust on the fly. But Monday night still represented a first: The Wizards played the Detroit Pistons while missing the two point guards who started the season on the roster.
Yet it wasn’t a point guard deficiency that shipwrecked the Wizards in a 121-112 loss at Little Caesars Arena. The Wizards shot well enough and scored plenty to win an NBA game, but they couldn’t slow down the front-loaded Pistons.
No surprise that defense once again doomed the Wizards. There should be disbelief, however, in how thoroughly they were outplayed by Detroit’s frontcourt. Point forward Blake Griffin, on his way to a sixth All-Star Game, scored 31 points on 12-for-23 shooting while also pulling down nine rebounds and sharing the ball for nine assists. Center Andre Drummond found no resistance and finished with a season-high 32 points to go with 17 rebounds.
“Going into the game we knew their fours and fives are pretty powerful,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “Blake is as strong as anybody in the league, and when he puts his head down and just buries you over, it’s hard to stay in front of him.”
Some of the players plugged into the big-man roles for the Wizards looked sharp on the offensive end, too, with Trevor Ariza making 10 of 14 shots for 23 points and Bobby Portis coming off the bench to stretch the floor and make 6 of 10 three-pointers in a 24-point effort. However, the Wizards could have used their presence on the other end. Forward Jeff Green, who started in the four spot, logged 28 minutes and grabbed just one rebound that came near the end of the game.
“I think they were just the more physical team tonight,” said Portis, who played his third game in a Wizards uniform after arriving in last week’s trade with Chicago. “They beat us on the glass.”
Bradley Beal played 42 minutes and added 32 points and 10 assists as the Wizards shot 50 percent from the field. The only problem: Detroit shot even better (51.8 percent).
Washington started the night in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and still conceivably within striking distance of the eighth-seeded Pistons (26-29). For a team with playoff hopes, the Wizards also needed this third and final matchup with Detroit to secure the head-to-head tiebreaker. However, with the loss, Washington fell to 24-33 and a full three games behind the Pistons. The 33rd loss of the season clinched what had long been inevitable: The Wizards will fail to win 50 games for the 40th consecutive season.
Washington will play one more game before the all-star break, but its depth may still be an issue.
Only five other teams in the league have logged more games lost because of injuries, according to the website instreetclothes.com. While the Wizards were in Detroit, John Wall was preparing for the Tuesday morning surgery to repair his ruptured left Achilles’ tendon.
Tomas Satoransky had also returned to Washington — not because of any pain but for “personal reasons.” Satoransky and his wife, Anna, have been expecting, and their first child was due in mid-February. Though Brooks didn’t want to share Satoransky’s private matters, he acknowledged the absence as a rare joyful moment during a season filled with injuries.
“First time all season I can actually say I’m very happy that he’s missing the game for personal reasons,” Brooks said. “All the other times, it was tough situations.”
The holes at the lead position left Chasson Randle as the team’s only true point guard. When Randle exited the game, the Wizards turned to Jordan McRae, the top scoring guard in the G League, to run the point. Other times, Beal, Ariza and forward Jabari Parker pushed the ball to get the Wizards into quick sets.
“Definitely hurt not having Sato, but he has some family things he has to take care of,” Beal said. “Chase did a good job. Jordan did a great job with his minutes as well. [Only having one true point guard] changed a little bit but not too much. I always say we have enough to get the job done.”
While Randle enjoyed hearing his name called during the starters’ introductions for the first time in his NBA career, the Pistons relished his debut as well.
Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson wasted little time in testing Randle, going at him on the first offensive possession of the game. Then, a few plays later, forward Bruce Brown scored against Randle on a switch. Randle wasn’t the only defender who struggled to stop the Pistons’ interior force, however.
In the opening quarter, the Pistons scored 22 of their first 27 points inside the paint as the frontcourt of Drummond and Griffin overpowered Thomas Bryant and Green. Overall, Detroit pounded 56 points in the paint as the Wizards struggled to find an answer.