Led by point guard John Wall, the Washington Wizards hope they'll improve enough to seriously challenge for a playoff spot.
New coach Maurice Cheeks, meanwhile, hopes his Detroit Pistons can overcome some injuries at guard early on in their quest to return to the postseason for the first time in five years.
Hoping for a better start than the past two seasons, the visiting Wizards look to avoid a seventh straight loss to the Pistons on Wednesday night.
After going 0-8 in 2011-12, Washington dropped its first 12 games last season. The Wizards went 5-28 while Wall sat with a knee injury. After he returned Jan. 12, the 2010 overall No. 1 pick averaged a career-high 18.5 points with 7.6 assists while Washington went 24-25 to post its most wins (29) since going 43-39 and reaching the playoffs in 2007-08.
The Wizards were 15-7 when Wall, then-rookie Bradley Beal (13.9 points per game in 56 games in 2012-13) and Nene (12.6 ppg, 6.7 rebounds per game) played together.
With those three healthy and last week's acquisition of 6-foot-11 Marcin Gortat from Phoenix for Emeka Okafor, the Wizards expect to win at least 30 games and possibly challenge for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"Yeah, we have much higher expectations," owner Ted Leonsis said. "It's the fourth season of the rebuild. We expect to be a much, much better team."
How much better depends on many factors, but ideally Washington needs Wall to stay healthy, take care of the ball and shoot better.
His 44.1 percent-shooting effort last season was the best of his career and the 3.2 turnover average also was a personal best. However, his career average of 3.7 turnovers is the highest of any player over the past three seasons.
"This team is not going to get over the top until they take better care of the basketball," said coach Randy Wittman, who along with general manager and team president Ernie Grunfeld, is in the last season of his contract.
While the Wizards hope this year's third overall pick Otto Porter Jr. will provide a dependable inside-outside presence for years to come, Gortat could help down low right away.
Washington ranked second-to-last in the league averaging 36.6 points in the paint in 2012-13, but Gortat has averaged 12.1, plus 8.7 rebounds, the past three seasons.
"We have a true center," Nene told the Wizards' official website. "He's going to help us. He's a veteran. He's a big body who plays physical."
Gortat has scored 16 points in two of his last three games against the Pistons. Wall has averaged 19.3 points, 10.3 assists and 4.3 turnovers in four career contests at Detroit.
Though Washington has dropped six in a row to the Pistons, half of those games were decided by five or fewer points.
Looking to avoid a ninth straight road loss and fourth in a row at Detroit, the Wizards expect to be competitive Wednesday against a Pistons team that's already banged up.
Newcomer Brandon Jennings averaged 17.0 points, despite shooting 39.4 percent, and 5.7 assists in four seasons with Milwaukee, but will miss some time after undergoing oral surgery.
Veteran guard Rodney Stuckey has been ruled out for the opener with an injured thumb, and it's likely 37-year-old Chauncey Billups, rookie Peyton Siva and key reserve Will Bynum will see a bulk of the time in the backcourt.
"It really has been tough, not having Stuck or Brandon pretty much all of the preseason," Billups, the MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals for Detroit, told the Pistons' official website. "Those two guys are going to mean so much to what we do offensively, defensively."
The Pistons, who haven't won more than 30 games in a season since going 39-43 to reach the playoffs in 2008-09, still boast the talented frontcourt of Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond and newcomer Josh Smith.
Monroe posted team highs of 16.0 points and 9.6 rebounds during last season's 29-53 performance. Drummond proved his worth when the Pistons went 6-16 during a winter stretch while he sat with a tailbone injury.
Smith, who averaged 15.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in nine seasons with Atlanta, provides another veteran presence along with Billups.
Cheeks, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant with Oklahoma City, replaces Lawrence Frank as Detroit's fourth coach in six seasons and ninth since 1999-2000.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved