- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 1999

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. This morning the Washington Wizards must be brimming with confidence.

Not only did they defeat a Detroit Pistons team 97-83 in front of 14,181 at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but they won for the third time in a row their longest streak of the season. And they did it with starting point guard Rod Strickland out of the game almost the entire second half after he was ejected for a double technical foul by referee Jack Nies with 10:36 left in the third quarter.

"Really, I don't know what that was all about," Strickland said.

Strickland was whistled for his third and fourth fouls in a span of 21 seconds. Strickland then picked up two technical fouls, the second of which came as he headed to the bench.

Strickland said what he said did not merit an ejection.

"It must have been something I did last year. This was personal," the point guard said.

However, it was enough to inspire the Wizards, who never trailed after taking a 6-4 lead in the first quarter.

"I have to give my guys credit," Wizards coach Gar Heard said. "They were determined to get this game. They want to finish this road trip with a win. So hopefully they'll come out with the same intensity when we play at Houston on Thursday."

Washington (9-17) managed to win despite taking 22 fewer free throws than the Pistons (12-14). The Wizards made up for the free throw disparity by holding the Pistons to just 36 percent shooting from the floor. Washington outrebounded the Pistons 50-39. Jahidi White, making his third start at center, grabbed 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes.

Mitch Richmond continued his stellar play, matching his season-high of 33 points and leading all scorers. Richmond scored 17 points in the second half, including a key jumper with 1:56 left in the game. The basket restored the Wizards lead to 91-81 after the Pistons had cut a 15-point deficit to five.

Grant Hill led Detroit with 25 points.

What was most impressive for Washington was the way in which it defended. Detroit came into the game averaging 104.2 points, second most in the league.

"I don't think you can say enough about the way we played defense out there," Richmond said. "That was big for us. We tried to play solid defense and get back on the other end and make something happen. We got good shots. And it all happens with defense. When we did get beat there was always someone who was there to back you up."

Backup point guard Chris Whitney, playing in place of Strickland, finished with eight points and eight assists in 27 minutes.

"You have to give a lot of credit to Chris," Richmond said. "He controlled the game. One thing we didn't want to do was get into a running game with this team and shoot a lot of shots. Chris made sure that we stayed within our game. He kept us steady."

When the Wizards squandered allowed the Pistons to get within 85-80 after a hook shot by Christian Laettner, Whitney assisted on two baskets and steadied the team on a third Richmond's jumper that put the game out of reach.

"It was no different than when I have started games," Whitney said. "Running the team is something that I can do when I'm called on to do it."

Washington allowed the Pistons (12-14), who trailed by eight points at the half, to get within 59-55 midway through the third quarter. The Pistons accomplished this without hitting a shot from the floor.

But Washington, without Strickland in the lineup, outscored the Pistons 16-8 the rest of the quarter to lead by 12 after three.

Washington got some good signs early. For starters, White pulled down six rebounds in the first quarter, playing eight minutes and being whistled for just one personal foul. Also, Richmond, who missed his first two shots one of which was an airball had 10 points in the quarter.

Meanwhile, the Pistons had their troubles from the floor, connecting on just eight of 23 shots from the floor.

Just one night removed from an emotional overtime loss at Philadelphia, the Pistons look tired, and coach Alvin Gentry did not like what he saw. Not that it mattered Gentry wasn't around much longer than the first half. Gentry was ejected from the game with about eight seconds left in the second quarter for arguing a foul against reserve forward Jerome Williams.

On the play, Williams was called for setting an illegal screen against Whitney. Incensed at the call, Gentry began to rail at Nies, who called him for a double technical that sent Gentry packing.

It didn't take long for the Wizards to take control from that point. Tracy Murray came off the bench to nail a jumper that lifted the Wizards to a 38-29 lead. Strickland stole the basketball from Lindsey Hunter near midcourt and raced the rest of the way for a layup, and Juwan Howard hit a bucket that put the Wizards ahead 42-29.

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