The Atlanta Hawks have guaranteed themselves their best first half of a season in a decade. The Detroit Pistons aren't feeling nearly as optimistic as they near the All-Star break after another tough loss.The teams face each other in their final game before the break Wednesday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Atlanta (30-21) needs only seven more victories to match its total of 37 from 2007-08, and is approaching the break with positive momentum. It has won three of its last four - including Tuesday's 111-90 home win over Washington - and is currently fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Six Hawks scored in double figures - four off the bench - against the Wizards. Joe Johnson had a team-high 22 points to go along with eight assists and six rebounds, while Flip Murray added 16 points as Atlanta bounced back from Saturday's 24-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Hawks got a season-high tying 58 points from their bench on Tuesday.
"That was a total team effort," coach Mike Woodson said. "The starters did what they're supposed to do and the guys off the bench were very good."
With Tuesday's win, Atlanta guaranteed that it will go into the All-Star break with 30 wins for the first time since the 1998-99 season, when it was 31-19 at the break.
To match that win total, the Hawks will need to end their futility in Detroit. They've lost seven straight at the Palace, and have averaged a paltry 86.4 points while dropping 24 of their last 27 visits there.
Atlanta did beat the Pistons 85-78 at home on Dec. 21, snapping a four-game overall losing streak in the series. Mike Bibby, who returned Tuesday after missing Saturday's game with a sprained foot, had 27 points in that win.
Detroit (27-23) won a season-high seven straight after losing to the Hawks but has gone just 6-12 since, and has dropped four of its last six. The Pistons led by 10 points with 3 1/2 minutes remaining Tuesday night in Chicago, but wound up with a disheartening 107-102 loss.
"I couldn't explain this if I tried," said Detroit's Tayshaun Prince, who scored 16 points.
Richard Hamilton had 30 points and Rasheed Wallace added 20 and 10 rebounds, but the Pistons were outscored 28-16 at the free-throw line and gave up 36 points in the fourth quarter.
"It's really hard to point out right now because it hurts so much," Hamilton said.
Detroit is allowing 111.7 points in its last three games after giving up and average of 88.8 in the previous four.
The defensive inconsistencies are in large part to blame for Detroit's relative struggles in the first half of the season. Though they are a respectable fifth in the East, the Pistons are guaranteed their fewest wins at the All-Star break since 2001-02, when they were 26-21. On the bright side, Detroit went 24-11 down the stretch that season to win its first of two straight Central Division titles.
Pistons guard Allen Iverson missed Tuesday's game with flu-like symptoms, and was scheduled to be re-evaluated Wednesday morning.