- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2008

In their last meeting with the Detroit Pistons, the Washington Wizards stumbled to a loss in what has become a familiar fashion - in good position at halftime, struggle in the third quarter and collapse down the stretch.

But that Nov. 1 loss came against a different Detroit team than the Wizards will face Tuesday night at Verizon Center. And it’s certainly a different squad than the one that opened 4-0.

Gone is Chauncey Billups, who as point guard paced the Pistons to the ranks of Eastern Conference elite for seven seasons. In his place is Allen Iverson, whom Detroit acquired from Denver for Billups and forward Antonio McDyess two days after beating the Wizards (3-15).

The move was meant to shake things up and give Detroit an explosive scoring threat; Iverson now averages 17.8 points and 5.8 assists to lead the team. But the Pistons have struggled to find their identity, going 7-8 since Iverson made his Detroit debut.

The Wizards likely would prefer an opponent suffering from an identity crisis than the running-on-all-cylinders Pistons, but they acknowledged that Detroit remains dangerous.

“It’s different, but the personnel we know pretty well. We know what Allen Iverson brings to the table,” Washington forward Antawn Jamison said after Monday’s practice. “It’s different preparation for them now. They like to score a little bit more. We know it’s still a dangerous team. They’re trying to find the mix between A.I. and what they are trying to do, but they’re still one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference.”

The Pistons are expected to trot out a new starting lineup: Sixth man Rodney Stuckey will replace Iverson at point guard, and Iverson will move to shooting guard. Richard Hamilton moves from shooting guard to small forward, taking the place of Tayshaun Prince, who will start at power forward. Rasheed Wallace will move from power forward to center, sending former Wizards bust Kwame Brown to the bench.

Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said his team is prepared for the smaller look and hinted that he has a few tricks up his sleeve to take advantage of the Pistons’ lack of familiarity. Regardless of what wrinkles the Wizards throw out, they must do a better job defending the paint. With driving and kicking being one of Iverson’s strengths, the Wizards know they can’t continue their soft defensive trend.

“Chicago gave us problems with their dribble penetration,” Jamison said, referring to Saturday’s 117-110 loss in which the Bulls scored 32 points in the paint. “We just have to do a better job with that because if I’m a guard and I see a [power forward or center] guarding me and I see all that red, I’m going straight to the paint. We can ill afford to do that because there are so many talented guys in this league.”

To correct that problem, the Wizards spent a good deal of Monday’s practice working on man-to-man defense.

“You don’t want to leave a big donut hole in the middle of your man-to-man defense,” Tapscott said. “You want to pack it in so when a guard catches a ball, he sees bodies in the lane. If he sees a gap, he’s going to drive it. And so if he looks up and sees a guy in there, maybe his first thought is to move the ball somewhere else.”

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