A failure to get past the Eastern Conference finals may have been Flip Saunders' undoing with the Detroit Pistons. He may be facing an even tougher task trying to get the Washington Wizards into the playoffs.
The Pistons face Saunders for the first time since firing him in 2008, and he doesn't have many healthy regulars at his disposal with the Wizards for the teams' matchup Saturday night.
Detroit set a single-season franchise record for wins in Saunders' first season, going 64-18 in 2005-06. The Pistons, though, went on to lose in the conference finals in all three seasons they played under Saunders.
Saunders was fired June 3, 2008, after Detroit lost to Boston in the postseason. After going 19-63 last season, the Wizards (2-6) hired Saunders in April and gave him a four-year, $18 million deal, but he's endured a tough start in part due to injuries.
Detroit (4-4), meanwhile, is trying to find some consistency under new coach John Kuester, who replaced Michael Curry after he was fired June 30. The Pistons have won two in a row for the first time this season, relying on a couple of players who are expected to play a large role in Kuester's effort to get Detroit to the playoffs for the ninth straight season.
Charlie Villanueva scored a season-high 30 points and Ben Gordon added 22 with eight assists and no turnovers in Detroit's 98-75 win over Charlotte on Wednesday night.
Villanueva is averaging 19.0 points in his last six contest after scoring a total of 15 in his first two games with the Pistons, who signed him to a $35 million, five-year contract in July. The fifth-year forward, who averaged a career-high 16.2 points with Milwaukee last season, was nursing a sore hamstring late in the preseason.
"Charlie started off slow," Kuester said. "I didn't even know what Charlie was all about because of the hamstring. Now, he's getting comfortable."
Gordon, who left Chicago to sign a $55 million, five-year contract in July, has scored at least 19 points in all eight games. He's averaging 21.8 points in his last five games at Washington, turning the ball over a total of two times in his last three contests there.
Gilbert Arenas, meanwhile, is coming off a terrible game handling the ball, turning it over a career-high 12 times in Washington's 90-76 loss to Miami on Tuesday night.
Arenas led the Wizards with 21 points, but seven of his giveaways were in a 6-minute span of the third quarter when the Heat erased an 11-point deficit.
"It's the same thing every game," Arenas said. "We go into that third quarter where we can't score, we can't pass, we can't catch, we can't think."
Arenas played even though he's battling a calf injury. Wizards guard Randy Foye sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and his status is uncertain.
Washington is also without starting forward Antawn Jamison (shoulder) and guards Mike James (finger), Javarris Crittenton (foot).
"We just need some rest time," Saunders said. "I've never been in a situation where I've lost three point guards."
Ball handling wasn't the Wizards' problem against the Pistons last season. Washington averaged 10.0 turnovers, but still lost three of four games.