To a man, the Wizards pulled out those knee-high socks that were all the rage in the 1970s. However, they also harkened back to last season, when Jordan was a retired club executive and interior defense was noticeable by its absence.
Chris Whitney and Hubert Davis did their best to compensate for Jordan's absence, with six three-pointers between them, but the Wizards were unable to stop Detroit's Corliss Williamson and Ben Wallace inside, and the Pistons escaped with a 97-90 win.
Williamson had 22 points off the bench, while Wallace, a former Wizard, crushed Washington inside, with 14 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots.
In addition, Wallace, a career 37 percent free-throw shooter who has improved to 44 percent this season, hit eight of 10 from the line last night, including six straight down the stretch.
"That's what the good teams do: they play when they're faced with adversity," said Wallace, who spent his first four years with Washington before coming to Detroit last season from Orlando. "That's what it's all about. That's when your teammates need to step up - when you got your starters and your captain down."
Said Washington coach Doug Collins: "Ben Wallace was awesome. He controlled the basket area, blocked shots, and, the ones he didn't block, he changed. I give him a lot of credit. He's worked hard, he's stepped it up. He's making his free throws now. He was the difference in the game."
Even without Jordan, who sat out last night with a recurrence of tendinitis in his right knee, but is expected to play at home tonight against New Jersey, the Wizards (27-25) had chances to steal what would have been a huge road win from the Central Division leading Pistons (30-22).
Detroit's Cliff Robinson, the team's second-leading scorer, was serving a one-game league suspension for violating the NBA's substance abuse policy, and Jerry Stackhouse, the league's 11th-leading scorer, had just five points in only 23 minutes as he spent most of the night in foul trouble.
And while Whitney (19 points) and Davis (17 points) combined to hit six of 12 three-pointers to keep the Wizards close and erase a 13-point second-quarter deficit, the Wizards couldn't match Detroit's interior strength, despite outrebounding the Pistons 44-37 overall and 15-8 on the offensive glass.
Whenever Williamson and Wallace weren't hurting the Wizards inside, Damon Jones was delivering daggers off the bench, going four four of nine from three-point range, including a three with 3:52 to play in the game that capped a 9-2 Detroit run and gave the Pistons an 89-82 lead.
"Damon hit some big shots and Wallace made his free throws. That was it," said Davis.
"There's nothing against Ben Wallace. He's a great ballplayer. But he made six [free throws] in a row. "Percentage-wise, that just doesn't add up."
Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 22 points, but had only eight points in the second half. Tyrone Nesby, who got the start in Jordan's place, had seven rebounds, but only four points as Washington blew a golden opportunity to prove itself to be more than just Jordan and a supporting cast.
Opponent: New Jersey Nets
Site: MCI Center, Washington
TV/Radio: CSN/WTEM (980 AM)