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Searching For Dignity In A Dumpster Fight Between The Pistons And The Wizards

Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and other members of the Detroit Pistons look onto the court from the bench during a game against the Toronto Raptors
Cole Burston/Getty Images

The NBA standings can be source of inexpensive amusement, that is if you like your amusements at thrift-shop level prices. The top of the Western Conference has been a daily pie fight born of the excellence of Denver, Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles Clippers, and its fifth through eighth spots are equally volatile and occasionally even fascinating given the good-but-often-erratic standards set in Dallas, New Orleans, Phoenix and Sacramento. Given that those are prime real estate, playoff-position wise, one can easily get drawn into their nightly dramas, as happened last night when Sacramento got handled by the thin edge of Miami's roster.

But there is only one true philosophical fight in the East worthy of attention, and that is at its dregs. You know of whom we speak here because we have devoted considerable time, typing and urinary-based japery in this space to both the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons. Their almost record-breaking levels of tandem failure have drawn our eyes and abdominal muscles since the Pistons embarked on their 28-game losing streak in late October, digging into last place in the league on Nov. 12 and remaining there without respite ever since.

But the Wizards have never been too far away, losing in more bite-sized but equally prodigious chunks: a nine-game losing streak early, then three six-game streaks and now their current 11-gamer going into tonight's second Jordan Poole Revenge Game against Golden State.

Now if this were just a battle for the best real estate in the draft lottery, we'd be less keen to see how this war of self-mutilation turns out, because the draft looks less alluring both to the shoppers and the shopped this year than at any time since 2013, which produced Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert and not much else. Quick, a thumbnail sketch on Zaccharie Risacher off the top of your head, and no cheating!

But there is also a distinctly metaphysical flavor to the Wizards-Pistons battle to be the dorm house furniture, in that losing still seems to be bothersome to the Pistons while it is just the cost of doing comedy for the Wiz. Take last night, in which Detroit played the vastly more engaged and successful New York Knickerbockers (and yes, that is still the cooler nickname than Knicks because it is so four centuries old), hung in sturdily for nearly the entire night, staying barely a possession away from the Knicks for the last six minutes. And then this happened:

And then this from Pistons coach Monty Williams:

Which was followed by this answer from crew chief James Williams, essentially certifying Williams's rant:

"Upon postgame review, we determined that Thompson gets to the ball first, and then was deprived of the opportunity to gain possession of the ball. Therefore a loose ball foul should have been whistled on New York's Donte DiVincenzo."

Associated Press Pool report

And the most you can say in the Knicks' defense is this headline from the New York Post: "Knicks should embrace being just good enough for time being."

A day ago, we chastised the Lakers for whining that they didn't get the calls they liked once, so there is inconsistency to be found here. But the Pistons have been a serious team in defeat all season while the Wizards have been aggressively declining the opportunity to give a toss all year long. The Pistons are impotent but angry about being 8-49 while the Wizards care only about finding new ways to be embarrassingly 9-48.

But here's the kicker; the Pistons want to be better so they can be rewarded with a lesser chance at a better draft position while the Wizards have been doing it for the sake of sketch comedy all year long, as if they are trying to find a draft position lower than one. Someone is trying harder than someone else, yet the effect is still the same. It's just a matter of degrees of hurt.

As such, we assume the Pistons would like not to have the worst record and still luck into the best spot in the draft, while the Wizards clearly deserve the worst record on effort alone but shouldn't get the best player. This is a degree of tanking argument, we know, and one that makes us unsure about our rooting interest. I mean, it's clearly Detroit, but what are we rooting for exactly? More dignified defeats for the sake of the lottery? The pride, warmth and sense of accomplishment that is 29th place? Fewer losses in which the officials have to admit they succumbed to anal-cranial inversion in the final minute? Are we expending our loyalties just so Monty Williams won't get fined?

This much is sure, though, at least the Pistons have made their season look less like tanking and more like just being persistently crummy. There is dignity to be found here, while in Washington, whose work this year has been at best comically detestable and at worst the stuff of All-Star Game interest levels, there is only the persistent forfeiture of pride. Their only reward at year's end should be 15 minutes of improv from Katt Williams, and even then they'll probably think that was as good as a ring.

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