Finishing Kick

Pistons pull away as Wilcox stars in win over Milwaukee

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Chris Wilcox, a pending free agent, continues to give the Pistons and other potential suitors plenty to think about with his play over the final half of the season. Though nagging injuries have limited his contributions in two seasons with the Pistons, Wilcox’s ability to play above the rim, score and rebound make him a coveted asset. He put up season highs in both points and rebounds with 27 and 13. His 27 points were his most in more than three years, dating to his time in Seattle.

BLUE COLLAR – Rodney Stuckey didn’t start, but had his second straight strong game off the bench after a two-game benching by John Kuester. Stuckey came on for starter Tracy McGrady nine minutes into the first quarter and five minutes into the third and finished both halves. He used his significant size and strength advantage to punish smaller Milwaukee defenders and force the Bucks to foul him. Stuckey knocked down all eight of his free throws and made half of his 14 shot attempts, finishing with 22 points to go with four assists and four boards.

RED FLAG – Milwaukee’s starting frontcourt is starved for scoring with Andrew Bogut shelved for the season and scheduled for another elbow surgery, but the Bucks need to get more than they got Friday night when Carlos Delfino (0 for 7), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (0 for 1) and Jon Brockman (0 for 4) combined for zero points. Their lack of production also meant a lack of minutes as Delfino played 19, Brockman 11 and Mbah a Moute 7. Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden came off the bench to combine for 30 points for the Bucks.

Joe Dumars and John Hammond shared great successes during their run together as president and vice president of the Pistons, but this year what they’ve mostly shared is frustration and disappointment. When the NBA schedule came out last summer, the Pistons president and Bucks general manager almost surely figured that their April 8 meeting at The Palace would have playoff implications.

Instead, it was two teams waiting for a season of hard knocks to come to a close and shifting their organizational focus to the June draft and the May lottery where franchise fortunes can be changed by the drop of a ping-pong ball.

The Pistons missed the playoffs a year ago, after an injury-wracked season, following eight straight years of postseason play including six straight trips to the conference finals and an NBA title. The Bucks, in Hammond’s second year since leaving the Pistons, ended their playoff drought last season and fortified over the summer by picking up talents like Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden.

But not much went right for either team this season. One of the biggest drags on Milwaukee’s season was the uneven return from serious elbow injury by Andrew Bogut, who was in street clothes Friday night, shut down for the season and scheduled for more surgery on the elbow he injured late last season.

That tipped the misfortune scales to the Pistons, who capitalized on Milwaukee’s lack of punch with a 110-100 win on the day it was announced that owner Karen Davidson had struck a deal with Tom Gores to buy the team, pending NBA approval.

Without Bogut, Milwaukee’s frontcourt was practically devoid of scoring. In fact, the Bucks got exactly that – zero points – from their three frontcourt starters. Brandon Jennings scored 31 of the 41 points Milwaukee got from its starting five, John Salmons contributing the other 10.

The Pistons, meanwhile, were getting something of a career night from Chris Wilcox. After a solid first half, when he put up eight points and seven boards in 10 minutes, Wilcox dominated the third quarter, scoring 15 points as the Pistons stretched a four-point halftime lead to 10. Wilcox finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds – both season highs in the best game of his two-year stint as a Piston, and the most points he’s had in more than three years, since he scored 28 for Seattle against Toronto on March 9, 2008.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of games left and I just want to finish strong. I’ve been hurt the past couple of months or whatever, but starting to feel a little better, starting to get it together and things are starting to work out for me.”

Wilcox was bothered all of last season by a back injury incurred on the first day of training camp. This year, a hamstring pull late in camp derailed what had been an eye-opening start. He’ll be a free agent at season’s end, but he’ll draw interest despite his injury history simply because not many players of his size – 6-foot-10, 235 pounds – can match Wilcox’s athleticism.

“He did a great job for us tonight,” Austin Daye said. “He’s a really active guy and when he’s able to get his hands on a lot of basketballs, he’s able to do great things.”

“Chris Wilcox was outstanding,” John Kuester said. “The way Chris was so good was because of his ability to slash when people were posting up, getting offensive rebounds, showing his athleticism, something that we needed.”

With Will Bynum down with a right knee strain, Tracy McGrady started at point guard but Rodney Stuckey replaced him early in the third quarter – with McGrady amid a scoreless night when he didn’t attempt a shot – and had his second straight strong performance. Stuckey finished with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Three other Pistons scored in double figures. Tayshaun Prince chipped in with 16 points and seven boards, Charlie Villanueva had 15 off the bench and Greg Monroe put up 11 points and eight boards.