AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — After the Washington Wizards started their longest trip of the season to this point with a resounding 98-77 victory over the Detroit Pistons, a team staffer went in search of the game ball. The ball rested in a chair near Nick Young’s stall in the visiting locker room, but it was being reserved for Rashard Lewis, who made the most of his 12-minute stint as he was on the floor for the stunning, game-changing 22-2 second-half run and also joined some exclusive company in the NBA record book.
An argument could be made that several players deserved a ball of their own, with JaVale McGee and Young leading the team with 22 points each and winning at the Palace of Auburn Hills for the first time in their respective careers; John Wall matching his career high with 15 assists; and rookie Jan Vesely having the best performance of his young career with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, including an emphatic swat that sent a Greg Monroe shot into the front row.
“We got contributions really from everybody,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards (6-22) won on the road for the just the second time this season — and ended a seven-game road losing streak to the Pistons, dating from Jan. 26, 2007.
No Wizards player who played Sunday was on the team back then, when Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler recorded a victory that gave the team the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards are far removed from those days when they made postseason appearances, but Wall said the players approached Sunday’s game — against a Pistons team that also now shares a comfortable spot near the bottom the standings — with playoff-level intensity.
“These games right here, where we’re close to these teams and got the same record, these are like championship games to us, Game 7s. You’ve got to take advantage of them, and that’s what we did,” said Wall, who overcame a difficult shooting night and turnover-filled first half to lead the Wizards on a dominating run.
Through his first 21 minutes,Wall had eight assists, but also he also had six turnovers and missed his first five field goal attempts and appeared apathetic about attacking the basket. Wall collected his sixth turnover with a terrible handoff to Young that led to a fast break that ended with second-year center and former Georgetown star Monroe completing a three-point play that gave the Pistons a 61-59 lead.
An angry Wall reacted to the error by becoming more aggressive offensively and more in control while running his team. He immediately drove to the basket and was fouled as he made an acrobatic layup — his first points of the game, with about three minutes left in the third period. Wall later hit a pull-up jumper over rookie and fellow Kentucky product Brandon Knight to put the Wizards ahead, 66-61.
Guard Rodney Stuckey made two free throws to bring the Pistons (8-21) within three, but Wittman inserted Lewis and the Wizards scored the next 15 points unanswered. Wall had four points and three assists during the run, finding rookie Vesely under the basket for a dunk that gave the Wizards an 81-63 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“One thing I learned as a player, mentally, you might not have a good shooting night, but deep down in the game, you might be the one that gets hot, or you might make that one saving basket to help your team win,” Wall said. “You’ve got to keep playing and affect the game in different ways and that’s what I did today, with assists.”
Wittman said before the game that it was important for for his team to get off to a “strong start” in the first of an imposing five-game trip that includes three teams with winning records in Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah. His players responded in kind, as they built a 27-point lead late in the fourth quarter when Detroit nativeJordan Crawford hit a short pull-up jumper.
“We came out with that mind-set that we need to get one. We need to start this road trip off with a positive. We going against some heavy hitters coming up here,” said Young, who was ecstatic to finally beat the Pistons in their home arena. “I was thinking it was kind of hard playing here. It’s big for me to finally get over that hump.”
McGee also appears to have broken out of a personal funk that came as a result of complications with his athletic asthma. McGee received treatment last week and had his his second game in a row with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. He finished with 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
McGee, a native of Flint, Mich., had an entertaining duel with Monroe, who led his team with 27 points and used his skill and intelligence to score on McGee, while McGee used his athleticism to soar for lobs. McGee had eight dunks.
“I definitely been feeling better on the breathing tip. It’s definitely shown,” McGee said. “A lot of energy in your home state, a lot of fans, family, so I definitely had to come out hard.”
Lewis didn’t know if he would even play on Sunday but he scored 10 points off the bench, left town with a win, and joined Jason Kidd and Paul Pierce as the only players in NBA history with at least 15,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 1,500 three-pointers made. “That makes it even better, being with a group of guys that’s probably going to be Hall of Famers in this game,” Lewis said. “It most definitely tells you how much hard work I’ve put into this game.”