Pistons strive to slow down torrid Hawks

The Detroit Pistons returned from their five-game West Coast trip a little battered and somewhat bruised. At least they didn’t bring back a losing streak.

They pulled out victories in the late going on the front and back end of the journey, sandwiching three losses. Tobias Harris’ 3-pointer in the final minute helped the Pistons secure a 102-97 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

Detroit now draws one of the league’s hottest teams — the Atlanta Hawks — on Wednesday night in its first game at The Palace since Jan. 5.

“It was a huge win for us, just because we’ve had some tough games that we feel like we underachieved in,” Harris said. “On top of that, it’s a good win to just get something going and get some steam going (back) home.”

A pair of the Pistons’ starters missed games because of injuries that occurred during the trip. Power forward Jon Leuer suffered a bone bruise on his right knee in the first half of the team’s double-overtime win in Portland at the start of the trip. He missed the last four games but returned to practice on Tuesday.

Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope sat out the last two games with a shoulder sprain that he sustained against Golden State on Thursday. He sat out practice on Tuesday along with centers Andre Drummond and Aron Baynes, who are nursing sore knees. Drummond and Baynes are expected to play against the Hawks.

The Pistons (19-24) played better defensively on Sunday after allowing 100 or more points to eight of their previous nine opponents. They limited the Lakers to 40 points after halftime and look to carry that improvement over to their matchup on Wednesday.

“We all fell in line, and even in times when we had breakdowns, we were doing our best to communicate and trying to protect each other,” point guard Reggie Jackson said of Detroit’s second-half defense. “It helped us find ways to get stops, whether it be turnovers or just missed shots, and I think we did a great job securing rebounds.”

The Hawks (24-17) have won nine of their last 10, including a 108-107 triumph over the New York Knicks on Monday afternoon. Paul Millsap had a key block against Knicks guard Derrick Rose in the closing seconds.

Atlanta survived without center Dwight Howard, who was rested on the second game of a back-to-back.

“A one o’clock game on a back-to-back,” coach Mike Budenholzer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his decision. “Trying to think big picture about how we can make sure he’s feeling great and healthy at the end of the year and into the playoffs.”

Another veteran, Kris Humphries, got a chance to play extended minutes to help fill the void. Humphries contributed 14 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.

“He’s a veteran, and he plays hard every game,” shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. told the team’s website. “He didn’t know Dwight wasn’t playing until we got to the arena. But he got out there, defended, rebounded, and did all the dirty work for us.”

The Hawks split two home games with the Pistons last month. Atlanta avenged a 121-85 pummeling in early December with a 105-98 victory on Dec. 30. Millsap had 26 points in that game after missing the first meeting with a thigh contusion.