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.