AUBURN HILLS, Mich. | Another game, another slow start, another failed comeback attempt.
On Sunday against the Detroit Pistons, the Washington Wizards fell behind after the first quarter for the 10th time this season. And the Wizards again failed to recover, falling 98-94.
It marked the second straight loss for Washington (7-12), which is now 1-9 when trailing after one quarter. And the defeat came after twice pulling within a basket of their hosts, only to slip into more inopportune slumps.
"We made a late charge and fell a little short," said Caron Butler, who scored 13 of his 20 points in the Wizards' failed fourth-quarter rally. "You appreciate the effort. Guys kept at it until the last second, but it's the nature of the game. That's how it goes."
As was the case Friday against the Toronto Raptors, Flip Saunders - who made his first return to the Palace of Auburn Hills since being fired by the Pistons in June 2008 following three straight Eastern Conference finals exits - stressed to his team the importance of getting off to a strong start because their opponents had the capability of scoring with ease.
But the Wizards again stumbled out of the gates and faced a double-digit first-half deficit. They rallied in the third quarter to tie the score at 58-58. But after capping the third on a 10-8 run to go up 71-69, the Pistons picked up speed in the fourth. Paced by six points from Charlie Villanueva, the Pistons took another double-digit lead at 82-71.
The Wizards had one more run left in them. Brendan Haywood's layup with 3:49 left pulled his team within 85-84. But from there the Wizards missed five straight shots and turned the ball over two times over the next 2 1/2 minutes.
For the final gaffe, Arenas - who took only nine shots all game and finished with eight points and nine assists - drove the lane and tried to send a pass to the other side of the court. But Ben Wallace plucked the ball out of the air with both hands.
The Wizards got two late 3-pointers from Earl Boykins and Butler, but it was too little, too late again.
Washington dragged itself off the court in defeat with its stars having failed again to deliver them from adversity. Antawn Jamison was 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter, and Arenas was 0-for-3.
Butler's 20 points were a team high. Meanwhile, Boykins came off the bench to score 18 points. Jamison added 13 points and two rebounds. Rodney Stuckey led five double-digit Pistons scorers with 25 points.
The fourth-quarter rally was necessary after the Wizards stumbled through another flat, sloppy first half. They took an early 6-2 lead but then slipped into a three-minute scoring drought. From there, the quarter featured five ties and four lead changes before the Pistons closed out the first on a 9-4 run that gave them a 24-19 advantage heading into the second quarter.
Aiding the Pistons' effort was poor ball management on the part of the Wizards, who had 11 turnovers in the first half alone.
Detroit continued adding to its advantage, going up 48-36 with 4:27 left in the half. Then the Wizards finally summoned some life. Beginning with a pair of free throws by Arenas with 3:49 on the clock, Washington went on a 13-5 run to pull within 52-49 at halftime.
Then, trailing as they took the floor to start the second half, the Wizards again turned to the 3-point shot - although it isn't their strength - to turn things around. But for the second half, they made only four of 15 attempts from behind the arc. Their chances remained alive, however, because the Pistons made only 14 of 39 second-half shot attempts. Unfortunately for the Wizards, however, Detroit did just enough and responded whenever Washington tried to mount a run.
"It's getting frustrating," Jamison said. "We did a good job, winning a couple close ones [last week], and now we're not fortunate enough to win some close ones. We just couldn't get over the hump. Kept getting it to two, three, four. But we couldn't get the stops we needed and didn't execute offensively, and things pretty much went their way the whole game. ... One of those games where you had your opportunities, but they did more than we did to win."