WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards were facing a better opponent, the Detroit Pistons, last night with two key members of their rotation, guard Gilbert Arenas and reserve center Etan Thomas, out sick with the flu.
Not surprisingly, they came unraveled in the second half, losing their cool beneath a load of missed shots as they dropped an 80-69 decision despite a career night out of chronically underachieving center Brendan Haywood.
Washington (6-10), which has lost four of its past five games and eight of its past 11, scored a franchise-low 23 points in the second half, shooting 23 percent after halftime as the Pistons, who have won two straight Central Division titles, cruised down the finish before 16,853.
"They [the Pistons] know how to win," said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan. "We haven't grown there yet, not on a consistent basis. Hopefully, we can learn and grow from this. If you make shots, it helps your defense."
The Wizards, who were returning to MCI Center after a four-game western trip that kept them out of town since Nov. 19, essentially stopped just long enough to dump their dirty laundry. They head back out on another four-game trip that will take them out of Washington until Dec. 10.
Haywood, who came in averaging 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds, had a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds.
"I felt we had to establish some kind of presence in there, especially with Ben Wallace," Haywood said. "We wanted to make sure that he had to think about something. We didn't want him to roam around and block everybody's shot."
Wallace, the two-time league Defensive Player of the Year, had 11 rebounds and only one blocked shot, but the Wizards did not take advantage.
Jordan drew his first technical of the season midway through the fourth quarter, arguing a non-traveling call against the Pistons' Chauncey Billups with 6:37 to go.
Jordan felt Washington's pressure defense had led to a traveling call on Billups, and former Wizards guard Richard Hamilton scored on a layup on the play to break a 65-65 tie. The Wizards would score only four points the rest of the way.
"Maybe that wasn't a good tech, but I thought I was calling a timeout and the official thought I was ranting and raving," Jordan said. "I was just calling a timeout. That was his judgment call. That's the respect that we have to get."
"That's the heartbreak part of it. You've got your pressure up, which creates what you intended it to do. It was there in my mind, but they didn't call it. That's a crucial play for us."
The Wizards shot a blistering 54 percent from the field in the first half behind the inspired play of Haywood, who had 17 points in the first two periods alone, hitting eight of 12 shots from the field with eight rebounds, as Washington led 46-41 at halftime.
The Wizards went 0-for-10 from the field to start the third period, and while the Pistons (12-6) only hit four of their first 11 shots in the quarter, they were able to put together an 11-0 run that gave them their first lead since they led 4-3 in the first quarter. Washington would shoot only 3-for-21 in the third quarter, but trailed by only two as Detroit shot just 4-for-17 in the period.
Hamilton had 25 points to lead Detroit, while Billups had 22. Larry Hughes had 15 points for the Wizards.
NOTES: The Wizards activated guard Mitchell Butler from the injured list to replace Arenas.
Percentages: FG .409, FT .793. 3-point goals: 3-6, .500 (Billups 3-4, Okur 0-1, Prince 0-1). Team rebounds: 5. Team Turnovers: 15 (17 PTS). Blocked shots: 2 (Wallace, Campbell). Turnovers: 15 (Billups 4, R.Hamilton 4, Wallace 2, Okur 2, Williamson, Prince, Sura). Steals: 7 (Wallace, Okur, Billups, R.Hamilton, Prince, Campbell, Fowlkes). Technical fouls: Wallace, 25.7 third. FGFTReb
Percentages: FG .378, FT .556. 3-point goals: 3-11, .273 (Hughes 2-4, Whitney 1-2, Dixon 0-1, Jeffries 0-1, Hayes 0-1, Blake 0-2). Team rebounds: 9. Team Turnovers: 16 (12 PTS). Blocked shots: 4 (K.Brown 2, Haywood, Whitney). Turnovers: 14 (Hughes 4, Hayes 3, K.Brown 2, Dixon 2, Laettner, Haywood, Jeffries). Steals: 9 (Hughes 5, Jeffries 2, Blake, Knight). Technical fouls: Coach Jordan, 6:37 fourth. Detroit22191623-80
A-16,853 (20,674). T-2:09. Officials-Joe Crawford, Phil Robinson, James Capers.