- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Detroit Pistons arrived in D.C. with a counterculture frontline in today’s NBA. Three post-based players each standing at least 6 feet, 9 inches tall filled out the Detroit frontcourt in a league addicted to spacing and a basketball world where being among the tallest is no longer an assured route to the paint.

Not so with Detroit. It ran three consecutive post entries to its behemoth trio of 6-foot-9 Josh Smith, 6-11 Greg Monroe and 6-11 Andre Drummond to open the game. The biggest frontline the Wizards had seen this season wanted to snatch and drag D.C.’s post players into the deep.

However, that’s not a troubling tactic to the Wizards, who won another grinder, 107-103 on Wednesday night inside a sedate Verizon Center.

Lumbering through the arena was a reminder of Detroit’s past menace. Rick Mahorn, now a Pistons radio analyst, was the enforcer on one of the most brutish squads assembled in NBA history, the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s and early 1990s. From point guard Isiah Thomas to Bill Laimbeer’s career of claiming innocence despite being a perpetual mauler, Detroit was a force. It’s also a fossil.

“You’re not going to see that kind of physical play (anymore),” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “Detroit wasn’t the only one. How the rules have changed and that. You can still be physical and have a presence on the floor with your physicality. That stays the same. But, the wrestling, fighting and stuff of the early ‘90s, those days are gone.”

Today’s back-slapping, amicable NBA rarely even delivers the formidable physical counter Detroit brought to face Wizards post anchors Nene and Marcin Gortat.

“They’re huge,” Wittman said pregame.

It mattered little when they were on the bench. Drummond played 23:08 because of constant fouls. Smith joined him on a padded seat with his four fouls early in the third quarter.

There was also another complication for Detroit’s beef: John Wall’s speed. Wall jetted from end to end in the first half. His pressure was leveraged into fouls on Drummond. Smith’s problems came from his usual stack of bad decisions. He picked up one foul on purpose to stop a first-half break. It pushed the Pistons into the penalty and judgment of Smith’s basketball IQ continued to be damning.

“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Wall said. “That got our team going, and that also got me going.”

Nene and Gortat — the latter a rookie in Orlando when now-Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy was head man for the Magic —finished the game outmaneuvering Detroit’s post players.

Wall saw a seam in the middle of the floor following a high screen from Nene. He pushed into the gap and dropped the ball to Nene which caused Monroe to step up. Gortat, though air-raid siren conspicuous thanks to being 6-foot-11 with a Mohawk, was able to slip in behind Smith. Nene made a quick drop off to him for a two-handed dunk behind the befuddled Smith’s back.

Gortat ran to the Wizards’ bench. Smith put his hands on his head. The Wizards led 103-100, with 38.9 seconds remaining.

A drizzle of free throws from Andre Miller, Wall and Rasual Butler helped the Wizards wheeze toward win number six. A tip-out by Paul Pierce of a missed free throw locked up the game. The Wizards are 6-2 for the first time since the 1975-76 season.

Wall finished with 27 points and 11 assists. He shot 16 free throws, the most since he took 24 against the Memphis Grizzlies March 25, 2013.

Butler was the latest jolt off the bench. He scored 18 points.

Gortat piled up a double-double, 14 points and 13 rebounds, on Detroit’s post brawn. Nene was more understated with eight points, four rebounds and the late slip pass to Gortat. Kris Humphries pushed back with 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

“It doesn’t matter who we play or how big they are,” Wittman said. “(Going inside) is part of our game. Nene and Marc and Kevin (Seraphin). I thought Kris came in and gave us a big lift again.

“It wasn’t really, ‘Let’s go after their bigs.’ It’s our gameplan anyway. Then once (they) got in foul trouble, you want to see if you can pick up a cheap one here and there. But, to start the game, we just went out and played kind of the way we wanted to play.”

That had to please Wittman. He provides relentless commentary on his team’s defense, but has also jabbed them about their toughness early in the season. This collection in Detroit is not a redux of the Bad Boys. It is, however, among the stout up front in this version of the league. And one that was pushed around by the Wizards.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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