Pistons, Wizards on different trajectory for 2nd meeting
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards defeated the Detroit Pistons in the second game of the season for both teams, but plenty has changed in the weeks before the rematch on Friday.
On that October night, the Washington team led by John Wall was considered an Eastern Conference contender while it remained unclear what to think of Andre Drummond and Detroit.
But now the Wizards (11-10) are struggling without the injured Wall, and Drummond and the Pistons (14-6) have the second-best winning percentage in the East.
Detroit routed Phoenix 131-107 on Wednesday, two days after knocking off the East-leading Celtics 118-108 in Boston. Against the Suns, Reggie Jackson scored 23 points, and Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley each had 20 as the Pistons earned their third consecutive win.
"Coming off a big win like Monday night, to come out and play like that was a good sign of maturity," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Washington fell behind by 24 points Wednesday in Philadelphia before losing 118-113 to the 76ers. The Wizards have lost two of three without Wall, who is sidelined with knee inflammation, and five of seven overall.
Wall is expected to be out for at least another week.
The Wizards took the first meeting over the Pistons 115-111 on Oct. 21 behind 28 points from Otto Porter. Wall scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half.
The Wizards held on despite letting a 15-point lead slip away in the second half.
Late-game collapses have been a common theme, but slow starts were issues in Washington's previous two games. The Wizards survived Tuesday in Minnesota for a 92-89 win as Porter sank clutch baskets late, but they couldn't overcome a brutal start against Philadelphia despite strong play from their second unit.
Kelly Oubre Jr. had a career-high 22 points off the bench Wednesday as the reserves chipped away at Philadelphia's lead thanks in part to planned fouling of 76ers rookie Ben Simmons.
The point forward set an NBA record with 24 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, sinking half, and the constant clock-stopping mucked up the game's flow enough for a Washington rally.
Yet even when the lead shrank to three with less than four minutes remaining, Wizards coach Scott Brooks largely stuck with his reserves. How poorly many of the starters played earlier was part of the consideration.
"I believe in all of our guys. Some nights the starters aren't going to play well. That's when you have your bench come in and then vice versa," Brooks said. "Some nights the bench is not going to play well and you put your starters in with more minutes.
"If people are complaining about (minutes), they're in the wrong business. The business is about team, developing a camaraderie, developing a brotherhood and playing together basketball. We have guys who do that. The decision was easy for me."
The decision for Bradley Beal to play in the second half was left to Washington's leading scorer after he took an inadvertent elbow to the eye in the first quarter. After passing eye and concussion exams, Beal returned to finish with 21 points.
The test for the Wizards involves avoiding another early funk without Wall.
"The pace is slow. We're just coming out with no energy," Beal said. "That's pretty much all it is. Energy and effort. We've got the talent. We've shown we can do it."
Washington heads out for a five-game road trip after Saturday and potentially could play throughout minus Wall.
The Pistons are humming, and the interior play of Drummond remains a main reason why. Detroit's center leads the NBA with an average of 15.2 rebounds per game while contributing 14.3 points per game.
Drummond set a career high with seven assists against the Suns.
The Pistons' core pieces are finding a proper balance after Detroit missed the postseason last season.
"We're really finding our chemistry," Harris said. "That's something we lacked last year. All year, we were trying to find chemistry as a team. This year, we've been able to really do a good job of locking into what works."
Updated December 1, 2017