Pistons guard Will Bynum drives in for two points. He finished with 19 points and five assists. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — When the Pistons acquired Brandon Jennings in July, it dimmed many fans’ dreams of John Mason announcing Chauncey Billups’ name on opening night.
As it turned out, however, Billups started the season opener against the Washington Wizards alongside Will Bynum Wednesday night.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion Billups would start at one of the guard spots, with Rodney Stuckey’s return on hold until Friday and Jennings still out with a fractured jaw.
Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks wouldn’t concede much of anything in the days leading up to the opener.
But Billups let the cat out of the bag after Wednesday’s morning shoot-around and is excited about the team’s potential, although it’s not like the 37-year old expects to play heavy minutes night after night. He’s more the team’s safety valve on the floor and its conscience off it.
Nevertheless, Billups reiterated how special it was to hear his name called again in the building where he became a household name. His wife, parents and three daughters were in attendance.
He was greeted to a hero’s welcome during an event-filled introduction that featured plenty of bells, whistles and pyrotechnics. Being introduced last produced a roar from The Palace crowd.
“I’m home. Opening night has always been fun. Me coming back is definitely exciting,” Billups said.
The guards had their hands full against the Wizards’ backcourt of Bradley Beal and John Wall. Wall was recipient of a max contract this summer, and is expected to help the Wizards make a playoff push — and send a message to opposing guards.
But neither Beal nor Wall could get going until it was too late. The Wizards trailed by double-digits most of the evening.
“We were playing catch up and that’s one thing you do not want to do when it’s somebody’s home opener,” said Wall, who finished with 20 points off 21 shot attempts and 11 assists. “Fans are into it and when you get that close the fans get them right back into it.”
Bynum scored the first basket after three straight turnovers and was in attack mode all evening, finishing with 19 points, five assists and six rebounds in 38 minutes, second only to Josh Smith and Greg Monroe in terms of time spent on the floor.
Billups stressed the importance of getting off to a good home start, with four of the first five at the Palace.
“There’s a huge window of opportunity for us to get better as a team. It starts tonight,” Billups said.
“There’s still a lot of unknowns out there. We haven’t gotten a picture of the whole team yet.”
One of the unknowns was first-round draft pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who in his NBA debut chased Beal around screens all night long.
With Cheeks using just three guards, Caldwell-Pope played more than most expected (27) and despite a four-for-12 shooting night, he was a positive force.
“I liked his activity on defense, that’s what always keeps him on the floor,” Cheeks said. “I talked to him about if he didn’t have a wide-open shot, put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.”
While he missed his three 3-point attempts, he drove to the basket and showed off cat-quick reflexes—when looking to the bench for instructions and having his eyes away from the ball, an errant pass came his way, giving him just enough time to get his hands up to tip it and drew a foul on Beal that prevented a fast break.
“When a guy plays defense the way he does and has the ability to make a shot, he gets minutes,” Cheeks said.