Getaway Win

Before daunting road trip, Stuckey leads Pistons past Wizards

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Rodney Stuckey has seen his assists numbers go up since re-entering the lineup at point guard four games ago, averaging eight per game over that span. Stuckey flirted with a triple-double against Washington, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Stuckey and Wizards rookie John Wall (24 points, seven assists, five rebounds in his Palace debut) didn’t guard each other much in the first half, when Wall and Ben Gordon checked each other, but Stuckey was on Wall for most of the fourth quarter. Wall did almost all of his damage at the foul line. He had two late driving layups, when the Pistons were backing off to prevent fouling, but still finished with only six baskets.

BLUE COLLAR – Tayshaun Prince missed the last four games with a sore hip and lower back, but he came back strong. In 37 minutes, Prince scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds. He was especially good in the second half, scoring 14 points. The Pistons went to him in the last five minutes, running 1-3 pick-and-roll plays involving him and Rodney Stuckey, and Prince hit two big late baskets to keep Washington at bay.

RED FLAG – The Pistons held Washington to 43.9 percent shooting and only 25 percent from the 3-point line and they killed the Wizards on the glass, 45-29. But they could never put them away because they kept sending the Wizards to the foul line. The Pistons were whistled for 25 fouls and Greg Monroe and Jason Maxiell both were limited by foul trouble. Washington wound up shooting 34 free throws to just 14 for the Pistons and outscored them by 14 points at the line.

John Wall justified the hype that carried him to No. 1 in last summer’s NBA draft in his Palace debut, scoring 24 points and putting his world-class speed on full display. Even in a crowded field of elite point guards, he did nothing to make anyone think he won’t be dotting All-Star rosters for years to come at some point in the not-too-distant future.

But if the point guard matchup between John Wall and Rodney Stuckey had gone to a three-judge panel Sunday night, Stuckey would win on points. Statistically, it was a near-draw. Stuckey finished with 19 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, a steal and just two turnovers in 41 minutes; Wall had 24 points, seven assists and five rebounds but no steals and four turnovers.

But Stuckey’s team won, the ultimate stat for point guards and quarterbacks.

“I’m up to any challenge,” Stuckey said, downplaying the suggestion he was amped up to play against Washington’s prized rookie. “I’m just coming out and playing basketball, just trying to do anything to help my team win.”

In his last four games – which coincides with Stuckey’s reinsertion as starting point guard after a long stint as shooting guard at Tracy McGrady’s side – Stuckey is averaging 20.8 points and eight assists against 2.5 turnovers and the Pistons have averaged 107 points, nearly 12 better than their season average.

“I’m just pushing the ball,” Stuckey said. “I love to play fast. I think that’s when we’re at our best – just getting up and down the court, creating a lot more attempts for us. It’s spreading the floor for us as well.”

“He’s done a real nice job,” John Kuester said. “He stayed aggressive and I think he likes taking the challenge against Wall. He’s played well against him.”

It was a win the Pistons knew they needed to bank before heading out this week on their last extended road trip of the season, three games against teams pushing for playoff seeding in the West. San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Denver went into Sunday’s games a combined 66 games over .500.

“Every win we can get is huge for us right now,” said Tayshaun Prince, who scored 20 points after missing the last four games with a sore hip and lower back. “This is a tough road trip coming up for us and we’ve just got to try to carry it over to those games coming up. We’ve got to continue to play together and that will give us the best chance to win games.”

The Pistons had lopsided advantages in baskets made (47-36) and rebounding (45-29), but Washington managed to stay in the game with a whopping 34-14 edge in foul shots, with four of the Pistons’ total coming in the final minute when Washington intentionally fouled to stop the clock.

The dynamic Wall was primarily responsible for the discrepancy as his speed forced Pistons defenders to put him at the line for 13 attempts. The Pistons countered by badly hurting Washington in transition, especially early, as they scored 21 of their 23 fast-break points in the first half, en route to 60 points by the break.

Stuckey’s passing proved contagious. Rip Hamilton came off the bench to score 10 points and contribute six assists and Ben Gordon added four to the team’s total of 29 against just 10 turnovers.

“The past couple of games we’ve been moving the ball pretty well and that’s definitely benefitted us,” said Charlie Villanueva, who scored all 16 of his points in the first half, when the bench scored 32 points and made 12 of 18 shots. “(Stuckey) has been terrific for us, pushing the basketball, and he’s been making the right plays. He’s been scoring a lot of points. Rodney is a tremendous player and the last couple of games he’s been playing terrific.”

Stuckey has maintained all along that it doesn’t matter to him if he plays point guard or off the ball. Perhaps the style of play and who surrounds him is more critical than what position Stuckey plays. A faster pace and teammates who can thrive in such a system, Stuckey believes, make him a more productive player. He said the effort to push the pace is responsible for his increased assists total.

“I think so,” he said. “Our bigs have been doing a really good job setting picks. They’ve been rolling. (Chris Wilcox) has been playing well for us and (Greg) Monroe has been around the basket, too. I’ve just been trying to push the ball and get them easy baskets.”

With Stuckey coming up on restricted free agency, Joe Dumars has consistently maintained his intention to re-sign him and keep him with the Pistons. If Stuckey maintains his recent level of production over the season’s final 18 games, there will be no question the Pistons will go into the off-season with retaining Stuckey a leading priority, no matter his position.