— The clear plastic mask sat on the scorers table on top of a red bag next to a clipboard, towel and chewing gum.
For the second straight game the chewing gum and clipboard got more of a workout than the mask, which belongs to grounded guard Richard Hamilton.
But at least there was a happy ending to the drama that continues to play out.
The Pistons snapped a five-game road losing streak, beating the Raptors, 101-95, on Friday at Air Canada Centre.
Detroit’s last road victory was in the same building last month.
That night, Hamilton came off the bench to score 35 to lead the Pistons to a 115-93 victory. This time, he was a healthy scratch, and there are no signs that will change tonight when the Pistons host the Kings.
Pistons coach John Kuester said this is not a sign Hamilton’s career is over with the Pistons.
“No,” Kuester said. “I will tell you that this is one of those things where you have to make tough decisions sometimes in regards to who plays and who does not play. We are searching right now. We are searching for a group of guys who will play at a high level and give us a chance to win.”
It sure looks like Hamilton is done. His name is part of rumored trade talks that would send him to the Nets. The teams involved in the talks include the Nuggets, Nets and Pistons.
“The way it’s going I don’t think (I’ll play for the Pistons again),” Hamilton said. “It is one of those things where you have to be ready.”
The Pistons found solace against the Raptors despite a fractured dressing room where veteran players Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince came to the defense of their benched comrade.
Point guard Tracy McGrady seems to have taken another step in his comeback, finishing with a season-high 22 points and five assists.
In his last 14 games McGrady has averaged 12.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
“I was very impressed with his pace of the game,” Kuester said. “His control, making plays when we needed big plays down the stretch.”
McGrady shrugged off boos and kept his composure. His biggest basket came with 1 minute remaining when he flipped in a reverse layup to put the Pistons up 98-91 after the Raptors had cut their deficit to five.
“That is the type of player I am,” McGrady said. “No matter how the game is going I want to be in control. I am starting to feel a lot better physically. Being out so long I think I am a lot smarter on the court.”
Greg Monroe’s streak of four straight double-doubles ended, but he still finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. He made the biggest defensive play of the game when he cuffed a shot attempt by former Pistons forward Amir Johnson in the final seconds to keep the Raptors at bay.
The Pistons enjoyed the victory but there is division.
“It is a very difficult situation for me,” Hamilton said. “I’ve never been in this situation before my whole career. I don’t know where to look.”