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In a game for the die-hards, Pistons turn aside Wizards

In a game for the die-hards, Pistons turn aside Wizards

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

If you can answer the question “What were you doing on the evening of March 29, 2024?” with, “Watching the Washington Wizards lose, 96-87, the Detroit Pistons at Capital One Arena,” a tip of the hat to you, an NBA superfan. You have the moral high ground over that trivia maven at the bar who can name every first-round draft pick from 1997 off the top of their head. You deserve your own bobblehead, one that makes your hair look really, really good.

Because while the two worst teams in the NBA face off every season, Friday was a special show. But the loud, engaged and enthusiastic Friday night crowd announced at 15,023 proved that, even in a dismal rebuilding year, the Wizards’ fan base remains loyal and strong.

The Wizards (14-60) are nearing the end of what is on pace to be the worst season, record-wise, since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1963 — with eight games left in the season, they need five wins to tie the squads from 2008-09 and 2000-01 for the fewest wins in a campaign. The Pistons tied an NBA record by losing 28 consecutive games earlier this season and own the worst record in the league at 13-61.

Still, the Wizards arrived to a winnable game half asleep and trailed by 19 at halftime.

“It’s all about the way we approach these games, and if you’re not ready to play when the ball goes up, any team in the league can beat anybody,” guard Corey Kispert said. “We don’t have enough wins. We’re not good enough to come to games not ready to play.”

The particularly grim matchup seemed to separate the die-hards from the casual fans, who rejoiced with every bucket as the Wizards worked their way back from the deficit in the third quarter.

They took an 81-80 lead with 10 minutes to play, but all that work — compounded with an overtime game Wednesday and a roster shorthanded by injury — left the Wizards too gassed to close out the win.

A portion of the crowd turned on the home team and began booing after Jordan Poole’s missed three-pointer with the Wizards down six with 47 seconds to go. They went 0 for 10 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t start the game with the right mind-set, and that’s on me,” interim coach Brian Keefe said. “… They responded in the second half. We played better, but too little, too late. You’ve got to play a full 40-minute game.”

Kispert led the way with 23 points, including five three-pointers. He was the lone Wizard with any offensive juice in the first half.

Deni Avdija added 18 points and 12 rebounds and narrowly missed notching his first career triple-double, which would have made for a heck of a trivia factoid in its own right. He had nine assists.

Cade Cunningham led Detroit with 33 points to help the Pistons snap an eight-game losing streak.

“That’s not what we’ve been building. That’s not how we’ve played the last two weeks,” Kispert said. “… This is a step back, for sure.”

Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:

Rookie Bilal Coulibaly spoke to reporters Thursday for the first time since the team announced March 18 he would miss the remainder of the season with a right wrist fracture. The 19-year-old is sporting a hard cast on his arm these days — which he said Thursday he will have for about three more weeks — while spending the final weeks of his rookie season riding the bench alongside the horde of other injured Wizards players.

But as he does with generally everything, Coulibaly is approaching the first major injury of his career with a positive attitude.

“I was frustrated for sure, knowing that I was not able to play the rest of the season,” Coulibaly said. “But it is what it is. Working on my left hand, whatever I can work on, my body and everything to come back better next year.”

Coulibaly said he’s getting a jump-start on his summer workouts. While he can’t handle the ball with his right hand or shoot just yet, he can run and lift weights.

In the meantime, he’s trying to make the most of a different kind of NBA education.

“I’m learning by watching the game,” he said. “I’m seeing things I wasn’t seeing when I was playing, so yeah. It’s an opportunity to get better. I’m not mad at that.”

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