Moving Richard Hamilton back into the starting lineup was enough to help the Detroit Pistons get back on track after their longest losing streak in more than 14 years.The Atlanta Hawks are still looking for the answer to their recent struggles.
The Pistons look for their fifth straight win since their extended skid by taking advantage of a dysfunctional Hawks team that's dropped six of its last eight when the clubs meet in Atlanta on Saturday night.
Detroit (31-29) lost eight straight from Feb. 8-25 - its longest slide since the 1994-95 season. Hamilton, who had started each of his 495 games with the Pistons before moving to a reserve role in January, came off the bench for each game during the skid.
Hamilton rejoined the starting five when Allen Iverson started sitting out with a back injury that's expected to keep him sidelined for about two more weeks. The Pistons are 4-0 since Hamilton's return to the starting lineup.
Detroit's first three wins during the streak came against Orlando, Boston and Denver - all division leaders. The Pistons extended the run with a 108-91 victory over Golden State on Friday night. Hamilton led the team with 22 points in 24 minutes, helping Detroit jump to a 33-16 lead after the first quarter.
"Our starters came out in the first quarter and set the tone for what type of game we were going to play," coach Michael Curry said.
The streak has moved the Pistons into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Hawks (34-28) for the coveted fourth spot and home-court advantage in the first round.
"It's a good time for us to make a run now," Hamilton said. "We pretty much know we can't get the one, two or three seed, we're so far behind. But we can definitely shoot for the fourth."
The Hawks' struggles are making that goal seem more attainable. Atlanta trailed 36-21 after the first quarter of a 98-91 loss to Charlotte on Friday night.
"Guys aren't serious about what's at hand," said coach Mike Woodson, who saw his team's lead over fifth-place Miami shrink to a half-game. "And what's at hand is us winning this fourth spot and holding it down. So we've got to go home now and see what we're made of."
Josh Smith didn't play in the second half Friday after he got into a heated exchange with Woodson at halftime that could be heard in the hallway outside the locker room. Smith, who had 13 points in the first two quarters, spent the second half sitting in the middle of the bench with a towel draped over his back.
"I don't want to talk about that right now," Smith said when asked about the benching.
Woodson wouldn't say whether the team's third-leading scorer would play Saturday.
"We'll determine that tomorrow," he said.
With or without Smith, the Hawks hope to snap out of their funk at home, where they're 20-7 this season, including an 85-78 win over the Pistons on Dec. 21. Atlanta also won in Detroit on Feb. 11, riding 27 points from Joe Johnson to a 99-95 victory.
The Hawks, who had dropped 12 of 14 meetings with the Pistons before this season, are in position to sweep the season series for the first time since winning all four games in 1993-94.