Paul Pierce buried a three-pointer with 8:58 left in the third quarter, putting the Washington Wizards up by 21 and forcing a Pistons timeout. This was how they were going to snap a six-game losing streak, it seemed, with red-hot shooting and pent-up aggression from an embarrassing month of sub-.500 play.
But even on its last day, February wasn't kind to the Wizards. By the end of the third, Detroit had pulled within 10. With 6:48 in the fourth, Spencer Dinwiddie flew for a putback dunk and suddenly the Pistons were up by one.
Finally, though, the veterans came together for Washington. John Wall had a key layup in the final minute. Nene had six points and a couple key defensive plays, including a vicious dunk right down the lane. More importantly, a couple of bounces went Washington's way -- finally -- and the Wizards were able to break the streak with a 99-95 on Saturday.
They finish the month with a 3-9 record, which has dropped them down to the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps this win and a fresh month can help Washington pick up the level of play they displayed earlier this year; certainly, there were a few positive signs. Pierce returned after missing a couple games and gave the Wizards desperately needed floor spacing, hitting four three-pointers in 34 minutes. Bradley Beal is still struggling with his shot, but he looked engaged defensively. Wall bounced back from two sub-.300 shooting nights with an efficient 8-for-14 outing.
Whatever it is, the Wizards still have a little time to put things together -- the East allows them that. As long as they play .500 the rest of the way, they won't drop any lower than the No. 6 seed, because the current seventh-seeded Heat are seven games under .500. While home court advantage is preferable, the No. 6 seed or better likely means avoiding the Cavaliers or Hawks in the first round.
But this win means little if Washington can't carry the play into March. The huge second half collapse just won't do for this team. The losing streak is over, but the concerns are definitely still there for the Wizards as they move into the season's final act.
3 other things we learned
Missing three starters, the Hawks still squeak by the Heat. Hassan Whiteside didn't make it easy with a monster double-double of 14 points and 24 rebounds, but Atlanta still earned the 93-91 win on Saturday despite resting Al Horford, Jeff Teague, DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic. Kent Bazemore and John Jenkins stepped up, combining for 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting. For Miami, new acquisition Goran Dragic shot just six times for six points, his second single-digit scoring output in five games with the Heat.
Brooklyn's big third quarter was enough to top the Mavericks. Without Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons, Dallas was trounced 35-21 in the third frame and couldn't recover. In Rajon Rondo's first game back from his one-game suspension, he had a respectable stat line -- eight points, seven rebounds and six assists -- but he still only played 28 minutes, the same as backup Devin Harris, and was a game-worst -22 in plus-minus. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle experimented with a three-guard lineup throughout the game to some success, something that could be used more often to help alleviate Rondo's shooting concerns. But without two starters, it wasn't enough to slow down Brooklyn on Saturday.
The Spurs are doing just fine. A showdown against the Suns was more of a brisk practice. San Antonio was up 24-13 in the first quarter, 51-24 at halftime and 75-41 after three in a game that was out of reach for the Suns pretty much the whole way. Besides Kawhi Leonard's 32 minutes, nobody played more than 25 minutes, while all 13 active players got in the game. The downside was another poor Tony Parker showing, who scored just six points on 3-of-13 shooting, but that's a small concern in the larger domination of this win.
Play of the Night
The Knicks actually won this game, but this dunk might disqualify it.
4 fun things
DeMar DeRozan tries and fails to 360 dunk. However, Monta Ellis has more success with a 360 layup.
Dirk Nowitzki won't stop dunking this month.
Wizards 99, Pistons 95 (Bullets Forever recap | Detroit Bad Boys recap)
Grizzlies 101, Timberwolves 97 (Grizzly Bear Blues recap | Canis Hoopus recap)
Hawks 93, Heat 91 (Peachtree Hoops recap | Hot Hot Hoops recap)
Knicks 103, Raptors 98 (Posting & Toasting recap | Raptors HQ recap)
Nets 104, Mavericks 94 (Nets Daily recap | Mavs Moneyball recap)
Spurs 101, Suns 74 (Pounding the Rock recap | Bright Side of the Sun recap)
Jazz 82, Bucks 75 (SLC Dunk recap | Brew Hoop recap)