- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

First he stood, and then sat, all the while shaking his head in a locker room that was so somber you could hear his crisply starched collar ruffling against his neck.
And then he said what everyone already knew.
"Man, they're just better than us," Jerry Stackhouse said after his Washington Wizards succumbed to the team that traded him here the Detroit Pistons 94-90 in overtime last night at MCI Center.
"They're the best team in the Eastern Conference," said Stackhouse, who scored 16 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. "It's plain and simple. We can't allow Ben [Wallace] to come in here and get 20 rebounds. We have to grow up and grow fast, because now we have to go on the road."
The Pistons showed their superiority by rallying with a powerful third-quarter run that saw them take control of the game. They did it with Wallace, whom the Wizards traded away as part of a deal four years ago to acquire Ike Austin (now out of the NBA), grabbing 20 rebounds and blocking seven shots.
And perhaps most importantly, the Pistons (42-24) did it with their reserves scoring 20 of their 27 fourth-quarter points. Detroit's bench ultimately outscored Washington's 38-5.
"They have perhaps the deepest bench in the East," said Wizards coach Doug Collins following the Wizards' second loss to the Pistons in the last week.
The loss dropped the Wizards (32-35) back into a tie with idle Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot with 15 games left in the regular season. However, the Bucks, who won the season series, hold the first tiebreaker over the Wizards. And Washington will now play its next six games on the road against Western Conference teams and not return to MCI Center until next month when it faces the Sacramento Kings, who are jostling for playoff position atop the Western Conference.
"It's going to be real tough from here on out," said Michael Jordan, who finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds but had a crucial shot in overtime blocked by Wallace. "You'd like to get this win on a getaway game. But a win is a win and a loss is a loss. We needed to get this one under any circumstances."
Last night the circumstances were overtime. But despite playing away from home before 20,173, Detroit looked more comfortable in the extra period. The Pistons beat the Wizards to loose balls and forced three turnovers in the final five minutes.
Richard Hamilton helped drive the stake into his old teammates' hearts, scoring six of his 16 points in overtime, including the Pistons' first six points.
And Chauncey Billups, who led the Pistons with 26 points, put the game away when his running layup slithered through the net to give Detroit a 93-88 lead with 13.1 seconds to play. Stackhouse's running jumper pulled the Wizards to within 93-90, but Washington would get no closer.
Adding insult to injury, Wallace, who never wanted to leave Washington when he was traded to Orlando, blocked Jordan's last shot earlier in the overtime when the Pistons' lead was only 91-88.
"I saw him going to his spin move and I knew he was wasn't going to pass," said Wallace, who has grabbed at least 20 rebounds in his last four games. "He double clutched on it and I got a hand on it."
That the Pistons are a better team than the Wizards at this point is pretty much understood by anyone who has followed the NBA this season. But they did not show up at MCI Center wearing a cloak of invincibility.
The Pistons had lost six consecutive road games before last night's game; they hadn't won on the road since they defeated Toronto 89-84 on Feb.19.
And that made the Wizards' latest setback even harder to take. After all, they outplayed the Pistons for most of the night in a game in which Christian Laettner grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds.
"That was a tough loss," Collins said. "Our guys played terrific tonight. It seems like there were five or six loose balls that Detroit came up with, and two or three multiple chances at the basket that seemed to make the difference in the game. Our guys did everything. We played our hearts out."
They just lost to, in their own words, a better team.

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