- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The Detroit Pistons showed Washington again last night why they are the defending NBA champions — and why the Wizards remain a work in progress.

The Pistons dominated play in the fourth quarter for their fourth consecutive win — and eighth in a row against the Wizards — to earn a 105-96 victory in front of 16,843 fans at MCI Center. Detroit outscored Washington 35-21 in the last 12 minutes and handed the Wizards their first three-game losing streak of the season.

“Defensively we couldn’t get anything,” Antawn Jamison said after leading the Wizards (26-18) with 26 points and six rebounds. “Those guys realize that defense is their strength. And on the opposite end they take their time. They milk the shot clock and set you up.

“They are still the same team [that won the title]. They might just need to have a fire lit under them, but you can understand why they do the things they do. And the most important thing is they do it down the stretch when it matters the most.”

When the teams last met here at the end of December, the Pistons (27-18) shut down the Wizards in the second half, unveiling a stifling defense that erased the Wizards’ 17-point halftime lead and resulted in a 107-105 Pistons’ victory.

Since that game, the Wizards had gone 11-4 before last night, and they no doubt hoped they had improved enough to get payback for that stinging loss.

That didn’t happen.

After Gilbert Arenas tied the score at 85-85 on a jumper in the fourth quarter, the Pistons seemingly could do no wrong. Whether it was Tayshaun Prince nailing a jumper with the shot clock winding down or Rasheed Wallace skying over everyone for a one-handed, tip-in dunk, the decisive moments of the game were dominated by Detroit.

The Pistons’ superiority was reflected in the box score. Chauncey Billups, who scorched the Wizards for 32 points when the teams met last, scored 11 of his game-high 28 in the fourth quarter. Prince finished one shy of his career high with 25 points. Richard Hamilton added 23 points and six assists, and Wallace had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Pistons.

The Wizards didn’t come close to that kind of balance. Arenas, who had strung together five straight games of 30 points or more, had his streak broken. He finished with 21 points and eight assists and left the locker room without addressing the media.

While Arenas had nothing to say, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan pretty much mimicked Jamison in his praise of the Pistons. At the same time, Jordan said the Wizards — now 4-5 since Larry Hughes broke his right thumb — are not panicking.

“We’re trying to compete. We’re just not at that level,” Jordan said, adding that the Pistons, who forged a 46-39 rebounding advantage, were more physical. “Now we have to bounce back and see what we’re made of when we’re in a situation like this. So we’ll go to work tomorrow and address the problems that happened tonight and see if we can correct them.”

One of those problems has been the inability to hold a lead against a good team.

Washington led by 12 points in the first quarter, only to trail by five points at halftime. In the third quarter they outscored the Pistons 28-18 and led 75-70 heading into the fourth, only to be outplayed the rest of the way.

At home, the Wizards had done a good job safeguarding a lead. Before last night, they were 11-2 in games played at MCI when leading after three quarters.

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