AUBURN HILLS — Flip Saunders finds himself in a familiar setting tonight as he leads the Wizards against the Detroit Pistons here at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the place where he guided the Pistons to three straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances.
Saunders, rather than riding to the arena on the team bus as he usually does on the road, drove here this evening after paying some friends in the area a visit. And to complete his homecoming weekend, after tonight’s game he will drive to his hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, to visit his parents.
“We’re not practicing tomorrow, so I’m going to drive down to Cleveland to see my folks,” Saunders said about 90 minutes before the 6 p.m. tip-off. “Early game, so I can drive down, and be to Cleveland by 11:30. With our whole west coast trip, I won’t have a chance to get home at all. So this is a good idea to get back home to see my mom and dad, who are both 89. My dad turns 90 on the first of January, so I won’t see them prior, so this is a good chance to get down there.”
Saunders’ drive to the arena wasn’t very sentimental, he said. Instead strategizing consumed his thoughts.
“More than anything I was thinking about how we’re going to try to beat these guys tonight,” said Saunders, whose Wizards fell 106-103 earlier this season to the Pistons, in a game played at Verizon Center. “I think about the same thing I always think about when coming to the game. What you do is you go through that whole imagery of the game being played out, and that sort of thing.”
Although Saunders was fired in 2008, shortly after the Pistons fell in the conference finals to the Boston Celtics and despite boasting a 176-70 record in three seasons in Detroit, Saunders still has fond memories of his time with the Pistons.
“When you’re in this league, basically there are 29 teams that aren’t very happy, and there’s one that’s very happy,” Saunders said. “If you win a championship, you’re not. If you don’t you feel that you didn’t accomplish what you set out to do from the first day of training camp. I think overall, we played good, entertaining basketball and we won a lot of games in this building, and I think the people enjoyed how our guys played. But unfortunately we got in the playoffs and the series that we lost, we had one bad game in that series and you go from having homecourt to losing it, so as you know, if you do that in the playoffs, it’ll sting you.”
Saunders is hoping that his new team can get off to a solid start tonight rather than the sluggish beginnings that have plagued them often this season. One of the keys will be getting a better shooting night out of Antawn Jamison, who struggled mightily Friday against the Raptors. The Wizards also need crisp ball movement, and to make sure that they don’t neglect Caron Butler.
He’ll start Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young, Butler, Jamison and Brendan Haywood. The Pistons will start Chucky Atkins, Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxielle and Ben Wallace