- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The vise tightened even more last night around the Washington Wizards, courtesy of the playoff-tested Detroit Pistons.

Detroit extended its dominance over the Wizards, winning 105-93 at sold-out Palace of Auburn Hills. In so doing, Detroit helped nudge the Wizards further behind in the hunt for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

Detroit (48-27), a virtual lock to secure the second seed in the Eastern Conference, joined Miami as the second team to sweep the season series from the Wizards. Washington (41-33) had its three-game road winning streak broken and might have to face defending champion Detroit in the first round of the postseason.

“They are just a better team than we are,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “I have to give my guys some credit; we just couldn’t rebound the ball.”

The short-handed Wizards were led by Larry Hughes’ game-high 28 points. But he and Gilbert Arenas (19) were the only Wizards to score in double figures, not nearly providing enough to offset the six players the Pistons placed in double figures led by Ben Wallace’s 22. Wallace also had 18 rebounds to match the number pulled down by the Wizards’ entire starting five.

The loss put the Wizards on a more precarious perch with eight games left in the regular season.

After Chicago (42-32) defeated Orlando in overtime, the Wizards trail the Bulls by a full game in the race for the East’s fourth seed. And Indiana (40-34), tomorrow night’s road opponent, is just one game behind the Wizards following a victory over free-falling Cleveland.

And now the Wizards, who rested forward Antawn Jamison despite saying his right knee was fine after he played against Boston the night before, are no longer talking about homecourt advantage.

“You can’t put pressure on being in the fourth spot,” said Hughes, who had five steals. “If we get there, then what? Are we going to say we’re not going to win in the first round because we don’t have home court? It doesn’t really matter to me.”

Falling to the seventh spot might matter if the Wizards wind up playing the second-seeded Pistons, who look as if they can beat the Wizards anywhere. Detroit toyed with Washington, which is still playing without a completely healthy Jamison and starting center Brendan Haywood.

The Wizards nearly erased a 22-point third-quarter deficit, cutting it to 72-66 late in the third period. But Detroit ended any hopes the Wizards had of an upset with a 17-5 run to push the lead to 89-71 with 7:43 left in the final period. In the process the Wizards could manage just one field goal in 4:53.

Now the Wizards must beat Indiana tomorrow to avoid falling into a tie with them for fifth place.

“We will practice and get things right, and we should have a lot of motivation going into Indiana,” Jordan said. “We know what’s at stake. We know we have to play at a higher level.”

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