Hawks-Pistons Preview

Four days ago in Atlanta, the playoff-bound Hawks had trouble
putting away the woeful Detroit Pistons.

The Hawks will probably be in for another tough night in
Wednesday’s rematch in Detroit, as they could take the court
without leading scorer Joe Johnson and starting point guard Mike
Bibby.

Atlanta and Detroit are separated by 25 games in the standings,
but the teams appeared evenly matched at Philips Arena on Saturday.
The Hawks (49-28), one game ahead of Boston for the third seed in
the Eastern Conference, led by two points early in the fourth
quarter before pulling away slightly to win 91-85, handing the
Pistons (24-53) their 11th straight defeat.

As Johnson sat out with a sprained right thumb, Atlanta’s
offense struggled to get in rhythm, finishing 10.8 points below its
season average. Jamal Crawford led the Hawks with 29 points against
Detroit, while Al Horford added 20 and 14 rebounds.

Bibby played against the Pistons – finishing with five points,
five rebounds and four assists – before sitting out Tuesday’s
109-100 loss to Charlotte due to an ingrown toenail.

Johnson, who averages 21.2 points, is expected to miss another
game because of his injury, but Bibby could return.

Maurice Evans started for Johnson on Tuesday and rookie Jeff
Teague took Bibby’s place. Neither was impressive early. The
Bobcats built a 59-36 halftime lead, denying Atlanta the chance to
clinch its first 50-win season since going 50-32 in 1997-98.

“I think we were all a little tense at the beginning,” said
Horford, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds.

If neither Johnson nor Bibby can play against the Pistons, the
Hawks might again have trouble achieving that milestone win.
They’ve dropped 25 of 29 in Detroit, including a 94-88 loss Nov.
29.

The Pistons bounced back from Saturday’s defeat in Atlanta with
a 124-103 win at Philadelphia on Tuesday, snapping their longest
skid since dropping 13 straight Dec. 15-Jan. 11. Detroit looked
like a completely different team against the 76ers, finishing with
season highs in both points and field goal percentage (62.7) after
shooting only 37.6 percent versus the Hawks.

“It’s great to get a win,” said Charlie Villanueva who shot 8
of 11 and finished 25 points to lead seven Pistons in double
figures. “I haven’t seen a locker room like this in a while. Guys
are actually smiling.”

The 25 points were the most since scoring 27 in a win over
Denver on Dec. 10 for Villanueva, who had eight points against
Atlanta and was averaging 4.7 on 25.0 percent shooting in his
previous three games before Tuesday’s victory.

“It’s been a rough year for me,” he said. “But I never lose
confidence in myself. It’s just been one of those years. I’m not
making excuses.”

The Pistons, guaranteed to finish with their worst record since
going 28-54 in 1994-95, are trying to win consecutive games for the
first time since defeating San Antonio on Feb. 21 and Sacramento
two days later.