AUBURN HILLS, Mich. The Detroit Pistons have put on several impressive performances during their recent run atop the NBA Eastern Conference.
They've never looked better than this.
Richard Hamilton scored 22 points and Chauncey Billups added 13 points and 12 assists, helping the Pistons rout the Milwaukee Bucks 114-69 yesterday for their ninth straight win and 17th in 19 games.
Detroit has won nine games by 18 points or more in that stretch.
"We knew we were capable of playing at this level, but I'm still extremely happy to see it happen," Billups said. "We know that we're going to have serious advantages on offense every night, and we're really locked in defensively right now."
It was Detroit's biggest win since a 52-point victory at Boston on Jan. 31, 2003.
"I don't know if I've had a team that has gone through this kind of stretch where they have been so aggressive and dominating over such a long period of time," said Detroit coach Flip Saunders. "When we're playing this well on both ends of the court, these guys are going to be awfully tough to beat."
One of the differences between this Pistons team and the squads that have made five straight conference finals is their deeper bench.
"They're like caged animals out there, and it's just so much fun to watch," Billups said.
Detroit's reserves outscored Milwaukee's 47-22.
"This is a young group, so we are going to play hard no matter what the score is," said rookie Arron Afflalo, one of six Pistons bench players to score at least six points. "That's how we learn things."
The game got so lopsided that Billups threw down a rare dunk late in the third quarter, giving him a 1-0 season lead in his unofficial contest against Afflalo.
"I had to do that, because a lot of the rookies probably didn't have TVs yet the last time I dunked," he said after the game. "We still have no evidence that Afflalo can even do it."
The 45-point margin of defeat was the third-worst in Bucks history, trailing a pair of 48-point losses. Milwaukee has lost four straight and six of seven.
"It just doesn't make sense," Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "We're not mentally ready to come out of the locker room, take care of the ball and do all the right stuff. The act is getting a little bit old right now."
The Pistons finished with a season-high 33 assists against just 13 turnovers, while the Bucks had 21 turnovers and 14 assists.
Michael Redd led the Bucks with 18 points, and Yi Jianlian had 12, but no one else reached double figures. Milwaukee lost twice to Detroit in December by an average of 35.5 points.
"It's getting ridiculous," said Andrew Bogut, who finished with eight in 32 minutes. "We didn't come in here with the confidence to win. It seems like they are the king of the mountain, and we're scared to play against them."
The Pistons took control early, leading by 10 midway through the first and by as many as 20 before taking a 56-37 advantage into the intermission. The Pistons outshot the Bucks 57.5 percent to 41.2 percent in the half, and forced 14 turnovers while only committing five.
Billups started the third quarter with a long 3-pointer, giving Detroit a 22-point lead, and the Bucks collapsed.
The game was the 200th consecutive announced sellout at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Billups thanked the fans from center court before the game. ... Milwaukee point guard Mo Williams, the Bucks' second-leading scorer, missed the game with tendinitis in his left Achilles. Charlie Bell replaced him in the starting lineup. ... The Pistons went 15-2 in December, setting a franchise record for wins in the month, and missing their record for any month by one. They went 16-1 in March, 1989.