Although they’ve clawed back recently to regain the edge for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, the Atlanta Hawks stumbled back into some bad habits their last time out.
Now Atlanta hopes to bounce back while taking a step toward securing a postseason berth Wednesday night against a Boston Celtics team that’s trying to avoid matching the longest road skid in franchise history.
The inconsistent Hawks (34-43) seemed to be playing their way out of the postseason when they allowed 105.2 points per game in losses during a 6-20 stretch.
Though Atlanta appeared to get back on track by allowing an average of 96.5 points while winning three of its next four, it failed to get stops when it mattered Tuesday and was outscored 26-9 in second-chance points in a 102-95 home loss to Detroit.
”Tonight, especially on the defensive end, we weren’t very sharp," guard Kyle Korver said. "They had 35 in the first quarter.”
Paul Millsap had 24 points and 12 rebounds and Jeff Teague scored 15 with nine assists for the Hawks, who shot just 38.2 percent from the field and missed 26 of 35 3-pointers.
They’ll get another opportunity to pad their 1 1/2-game advantage over New York as they take on a Boston team that ranks near the bottom of the NBA with 95.7 points per game and is on the verge of equaling its longest losing streak of the season.
The Celtics (23-54) dropped their eighth in a row Saturday, failing to preserve a 19-point, third-quarter advantage in a 115-111 loss at Detroit. They had just 16 points in the fourth and did not score in the final three minutes.
”I thought we let off the gas defensively a couple of times and all of a sudden, instead of a 19-point game, it’s a 13- or 12-point game,” coach Brad Stevens said. ”We have seen that time and again in this league that those leads go quick.”
Stevens’ squad also lost its 12th straight road game – one shy of the team-record 13-game skid set in 1979. The Celtics’ only wins over their past 15 road games have come against Milwaukee and Philadelphia – the league’s two worst teams.
Jerryd Bayless had 25 points and Jared Sullinger, one of the NBA’s worst 3-point shooters (26.5 percent), hit four 3s on the way to 22 points and had 10 rebounds while starting in place of the injured Kris Humphries.
Bayless, who has totaled 48 points with 10 3-pointers in his last two games, scored a season-high 29 with five 3s to help Boston win 115-104 over visiting Atlanta on Feb. 26 for its second victory in three meetings this season.
Rajon Rondo is expected to return after resting his surgically repaired knee Saturday. In his only matchup with the Hawks, Rondo finished with 22 points and 11 assists in the February home win.
Teague, who countered with 26 points in that contest, has scored 21.5 per game while hitting 21 of 43 from 3-point range over his last 12 at home.
Millsap had 34 points and 15 rebounds Dec. 31 to lead the Hawks to their only win in the series, 92-91 at Boston. The All-Star forward has averaged 21.4 points and 12.4 boards while posting five straight double-doubles into this meeting.
The Hawks have dropped four of the last five meetings.