LANDOVER -- A week ago when the Washington Bullets had won three of four games, there was a real sense of progress. They spoke of more wins, a new attitude and making a statement over the final stretch of the season.
The statement made last night: There's a long, long way to go. That's the only conclusion one could draw after a Detroit Pistons team that had lost seven of their previous eight road games, came back from an early 14-point deficit to cruise to a 114-105 win before 13,011 at USAir Arena. Only the Los Angeles Clippers have fewer road wins than the Pistons, who entered last night's game with five.
The Pistons have won two of their past three away from home (they beat the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday) thanks to a Bullets team that did little defensively and, even with four players scoring 20 or more points, committed a season-high 26 turnovers.
"It's a bad game," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "Plus, it's a step backward."
It was hard to believe that this was the same Detroit team that had scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Detroit had little trouble scoring last night: Allan Houston scored 29 points in a career-high 47 minutes, Grant Hill had 25 points (and nine rebounds and seven assists) and Oliver Miller 15 points (and eight rebounds).
The loss wasted yet another solid game by Washington rookie forward Juwan Howard, who ended up one assist shy of a triple-double, as he scored 21 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and passed for nine assists.
"I thought he was very good," Lynam said. 'But I thought he got fatigued at the end."
Which could explain Howard's five turnovers. Chris Webber had six turnovers, and Calbert Cheaney had a team-high seven.
"Turnovers killed us," Howard said. "Everything seemed to go wrong for us after the first quarter."
Ah, yes, the first quarter, when the Bullets threatened to blow the Pistons out the gym. At one point, Washington scored 14 straight points, and after Scott Skiles scored on a layup with 2:16 left in the first, the Bullets' lead was 23-9.
But by that time, the tide of the game already had turned, the change coming about when Detroit coach Don Chaney replaced starting center Miller with 6-foot-7 forward Rafael Addison.
That forced Lynam to remove Gheorghe Muresan, who had eight rebounds in eight first-quarter minutes and had helped limit Detroit to hitting three of its first 16 shots.
"When [Muresan] went out, that's when the game turned," Lynam said. "They made it a small man's game. I call it the 6-foot-6-and-under league."
Whatever you call it, it worked for the Pistons, who finished the quarter by hitting seven straight shots. They were helped by six Washington turnovers during the final five minutes and pulled to within 25-21.
At one point, Detroit had hit 11 straight shots and later a 15-0 run that ended with a layup by Houston gave Detroit a 47-37 lead.
Detroit hit 16 of 23 shots in the third quarter and seized control of the game.
"It's hard on us. It's hard on the fans," Webber said. "We're tired of losing."