Richard Hamilton thought it was a joke when Pistons coach John Kuester told him to check in for the first time since Jan. 10.
Hamilton put on a performance that proved to Detroit — and the rest of the NBA — that he can be a solid contributor no matter the length of the layoff or where he might land if he's traded at the deadline.
Hamilton scored 15 points in his first action in 13 games and Tracy McGrady added 20, leading the Pistons over the Milwaukee Bucks 89-78 on Saturday night.
"I thought it was a joke. Like I said, I had no idea. No idea. Just yesterday I was inactive. Like I said I thought that was a sign that was my last time ever playing in a Piston uniform, you know?" Hamilton said.
Less than 24 hours later, Hamilton looked much more like the sharpshooter who helped the Pistons win a title in 2004, back when Kuester was an assistant and Hamilton was pouring in points.
"I don't have a problem with him, but I don't think it will ever get back to the way it was," Hamilton said. "I said from Day One: Stay professional. Be ready. You never know what's going to happen. I didn't know if it was going to be here or if I'd be playing somewhere else."
Kuester said that Hamilton did a "nice job," but deferred a question about moving forward with the veteran who has averaged 17.7 points per game in his career.
"We've got to get healthy, first. That's the most important thing, getting healthy," the coach said.
Detroit took control early in the second quarter and put the game out of reach with a 12-2 run in the fourth.
It was Milwaukee's fourth straight loss despite the return of Andrew Bogut, who missed two games with right knee soreness. Bogut finished with 18 points for the NBA's worst-shooting, lowest-scoring team.
"We're just not playing pro basketball at the moment," a frustrated Bogut said. "We have injuries. Big deal. Every team has injuries. It's getting to the point where there's no excuse for the way we played tonight. No excuse whatsoever."
Ersan Ilyasova's layup cut Detroit's lead to 66-62, but Hamilton and Will Bynum hit jumpers, Greg Monroe and Charlie Villanueva followed with dunks and Hamilton and Bynum added two more baskets on the run that made it 78-64 with 5:38 left.
Tayshaun Prince finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds for Detroit, while Ben Gordon scored 12. Corey Maggette added 15 points for Milwaukee, which went 12 of 40 and scored 31 points in the second half.
A season after their first playoff appearance in four years, the Bucks appear to be crumbling just before the All-Star break after their 14th loss in last 21 games.
"We get a scouting report every game. Read your scouting report. Know what guys strengths' are, what guys' weaknesses are," Bogut said. "Offensively, know our sets. It's February and we're having breakdown on sets. It's an absolute joke."
Hamilton checked in late in the first quarter and the Pistons never gave up the lead shortly after he entered. He began with a 3-pointer to start the second quarter, added a pair of jumpers, then worked around a screen that clipped defender Brandon Jennings and stared down a 16-footer before hitting it when no one rotated to defend him.
"I don't think it has become a distraction for us," Prince said of Hamilton's situation. "We need him. There's no doubt about that. At the same time a lot of games, sometimes we were playing behind the eight ball and that's what we're doing without him."
Hamilton, who turns 33 on Feb. 14, has been having the worst season of his 12-year career since he played sparingly as a rookie in Washington and the Pistons had gone 6-7 since he last played in a loss to Chicago nearly a month ago.
"I expect the unexpected," Hamilton said. "It's been happening the last three months."
Notes: Detroit improved to 6-21 on the road this season. ... The Bucks signed Garrett Temple to a second 10-day contract before the game. Temple averaged 2.5 points and 11½ minutes in his first six games with the team. ... While the Bucks have been last in scoring, Detroit hasn't been much better, averaging 94.8 points, good for 26th out of 30. ... Detroit outscored Milwaukee 14-13 in the third quarter.