Pistons start playoff push at Hawks
The Detroit Pistons will begin their chase for one of the Eastern Conference playoff spots Friday on the road against a young, rebuilding Atlanta Hawks club that staggered into the All-Star break.
The Pistons (26-30) open the second half of the season tied with the Miami Heat for the eighth playoff position in the East. Detroit is only a half-game behind seventh-place Charlotte and only a half-game ahead of 10th place Orlando.
The Pistons had their four-game winning streak snapped by Boston just before the break. They now play four of their next five on the road.
"I think we played really, really good basketball," center Andre Drummond said of the final stretch before the layoff. "We set a goal to go 5-2 and we succeeded with that. Got a week off, take a break, come back and it's off to the races from there."
Drummond averages 17.4 points and 15 rebounds per game, the latter figure tops in the NBA by 1.5. He has 45 double-doubles, three off the NBA lead, and has posted more than 15 rebounds in 29 games, six more than anyone else.
Blake Griffin, who has 18 double-doubles and surpassed 20 points in 42 games, is averaging 26.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists. He was named an NBA All-Star for the sixth time in his career and the first time since 2014-15.
The Hawks (19-39), who typically start two rookies, are in 12th place in the East and eight games ahead of the last-place New York Knicks. But Atlanta dropped four of five home games before the break, including an embarrassing 106-91 drubbing at home against the Knicks, who had lost 18 straight games.
A big question is how the Hawks will fare without veteran backup point guard Jeremy Lin, who was bought out before the break. Lin had been a positive influence on rookie point guard Trae Young and produced in some disquieting circumstances. Atlanta did address the situation by signing Jaylen Adams to a multi-year deal on Wednesday; he had been with the team on a two-way contract.
Young, although inconsistent, has played well. He's averaging 16.9 points and 7.6 assists and has already shattered the franchise record for assists by a rookie. Since 1997-98, only Chris Paul (2005-06) and John Wall (2010-11) averaged at least 16 points and seven assists as a rookie.
The most consistent Hawk has been second-year forward John Collins, who is averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds in his second season.
The hottest player has been forward Taurean Prince, who was shooting .547 percent from the field over an eight-game span before the loss to the Knicks. Prince, who missed 15 games from December to January with an ankle injury, is averaging 13.4 points and shooting 38.1 percent on 3 pointers this season.
"I like where we're headed," Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said. "As a first-time coach, I didn't know if I'd be fighting players every day or disgruntled guys or guys not buying into it, but I think the guys buy into it and they enjoy each other. They enjoy my staff, which is very important."
This will be the third and final meeting between the two teams this season. The Pistons won the first game 124-109 on Nov. 9 in Atlanta, but the Hawks won 98-95 in Detroit on Dec. 23. The Pistons are 6-3 against the Hawks since the 2016-17 season.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 21, 2019