A decent rivalry between the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks through much of the 1980s and '90s became very one-sided this decade.That is until last season when the Hawks got the better of it, and there's little reason to think that will soon change.
While Atlanta has one of the best records in the Eastern Conference, the injury-plagued Pistons have one of the worst and they're trying to snap a seven-game losing streak Sunday while avoiding a fourth straight defeat to the Hawks.
These teams were Central Division foes until Atlanta (12-4) was shifted to the Southeast in 2004 and they met in the playoffs five times from 1986 through 1999, with the Hawks winning three of those series. Once the millennium hit, however, only Detroit (5-11) remained a perennial postseason contender.
The Hawks went through an eight-year playoff drought until returning in 2007-08, but they still lost all four meetings with Detroit that season. That left Atlanta with a 6-27 record in the series since December 1999.
The Hawks never won back-to-back meetings during that stretch of futility, but they finally turned the tide last season. Besides winning all three matchups with Detroit, Atlanta won its first playoff series since 1999 and the Pistons failed to win one for the first time since 2001.
Atlanta begins this season's series riding its longest win streak over Detroit since a four-game sweep in 1993-94.
Now the Hawks can cause Detroit to match its longest losing streak of the decade. Since January 1995, the only time the Pistons have dropped eight straight came last season, but that's what they face with a loss Sunday and they'll be short-handed.
Richard Hamilton (ankle) and Tayshaun Prince (back) have not played this month and neither is expected back Sunday. The same can be said of Ben Gordon, who sat out Friday night's 104-96 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with a sprained ankle.
"Our confidence doesn't go anywhere. We are professionals so we have to stay with that mindset," said guard Will Bynum, who was 4 of 17 from the field Friday. "The best thing about the NBA is that we have another game on Sunday. We got to regroup and try to get our stuff together and get a win on Sunday."
Atlanta got its act together Friday, bouncing back from consecutive losses to beat Philadelphia 100-86.
The Hawks hit 51.4 percent from the field after getting held below 39 percent in defeats to New Orleans and Orlando.
"Expectations are high this year and that's the way you want it," coach Mike Woodson told the league's official Web site. "We're not at the top yet and that's the way the team likes it."
Jamal Crawford scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter Friday and continues to play well as Atlanta's sixth man, averaging 18.8 points in the last four games.
He's also provided a veteran presence for a young roster along with point guard Mike Bibby, who scored 21 on Friday. Bibby averaged 7.2 points on 32.6 percent shooting in the previous five games.
"He's a real pro," Woodson said of Bibby.
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