There's the Pistons team that started out 4-20, and then there's the one that makes you think what could have been.

The Pistons improved to 17-13 after their disastrous start with their 99-94 win Thursday over the Washington Wizards at The Palace, their third straight win.

Greg Monroe led the Pistons (21-33) with 18 points and seven rebounds, despite playing only 21 minutes.

Even though the Pistons head off to their four-game trip on the right foot, they still showed more than a few signs of struggle. It was an ugly game, reminiscent of the 79-77 slugfest they played over a week ago, saved by a Rodney Stuckey's winning shot.

"It was sloppy at times," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said. "That's what we're going to be, a defense-first team and we'll continue to establish that identity."

The second unit of Stuckey, Ben Wallace, Jonas Jerebko, Damien Wilkins and Will Bynum turned up the defensive intensity, further cementing Frank's mantra.

It probably accounts for Monroe only playing 21 minutes, as Frank rarely, if ever, plays Wallace and Monroe together.

Jerebko disputed the win being termed "ugly," preferring to call it "winning basketball," but there were some ugly aspects.

"If we would've made our free throws we would've won by 30," said Jerebko, who had nine points and three rebounds. "We got some good stops and ran the floor, I don't think it was that ugly.