Matchup: Detroit Pistons (16-25) @ Atlanta Hawks (33-8)
When: 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA
What to Watch For:
1. Atlanta Hawks = Almost Invincible of Late: The Hawks are on a roll that’s made Detroit’s recent seven game winning streak look like child’s play. They’ve won their last 12 and 26 out of their last 28. Most recently, they’re coming off back-to-back wins in Chicago and Toronto. Also, they’re currently 28 games ahead of the last place Knicks, so there’s that.
2. A Modern Day 2004 Pistons?: Recently, the Detroit Free Press aptly compared the Atlanta Hawks to Motown’s NBA champs of yesteryear. That’s not to say a championship is imminent in Georgia, or that they’re bolstered with an undersized center with a penchant for big hair and bigger defensive plays, but in terms of being a successful franchise without a standout superstar, the Hawks feature some similarities with the ’04 champs.
In the first matchup between the Hawks and current Pistons, Atlanta utilized that “every player is a weapon” philosophy in churning out six players in double figures with no one breaking the 20-point barrier. On the other side of the ball, Atlanta’s team defense smothered the Pistons in the first half, disrupting offensive flow and forcing a flurry of poor shots in the face of a dwindling shot clock. This Hawks squad does it with teamwork.
3. Will the Pistons Do Some Streak-Busting of Their Own?: The Hawks played spoiler the last time these two teams met, racing out to a 19-point halftime lead after hanging a 64-spot in the first two frames. The Pistons were forced into play uncharacteristic of what had become expected over the course of the seven game win streak Atlanta ultimately snapped.
That said, the Pistons didn’t go down quietly. An increase in defensive intensity limited the Hawks to just 16 fourth quarter points while the Pistons unleashed a kooky last-ditch gameplan that essentially followed the general guidelines of “Get a stop. Run. Shoot a three” (which only varied slightly from their current gameplan of “Get a stop. Run. Shoot a good three. Or a layup sometimes.”) The Pistons were so triple-happy, in fact, they set a franchise record for single game attempts (43). Kentavious Caldwell-Pope attempted 16 threes alone.
Somewhere in there, the Pistons may have been able to find the confidence they were looking for against a team of this caliber. If they can perform strongly out of the gate today (or at least avoid the complete lack of energy that yielded 64 points to the opposition in the first half), it might be time to turn the tables on this crew from the dirty south.