Despite owning the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference this season, the Atlanta Hawks are far from satisfied.The Hawks hope to get off to a stronger start and avoid having to make a late comeback on Sunday when they host the Detroit Pistons.
After making the playoffs as the eighth seed in the East with a 37-45 record last season, Atlanta (16-10) looks like it could finish with its first winning season since going 31-19 during the strike-shortened 1998-99 campaign.
The Hawks pushed eventual NBA champion Boston to seven games in the opening round last season, and began 2008-09 with six straight wins. Atlanta has also won four of its last five after losing three in a row.
They're coming off Friday's 115-99 win over Golden State, which has the league's fifth-worst record, but it wasn't easy. Atlanta trailed 81-79 after three quarters before outscoring the Warriors 36-18 in the final 12 minutes.
"I hate for games to be like that," said Atlanta's Joe Johnson, who had 19 points. "I just feel at some point we've got to execute and put teams away early."
It was a similar situation in Monday's 83-79 win over Charlotte, which has the second-worst conference in the East, as the Hawks were down six at the half.
Johnson is also worried that Atlanta may be playing down to its level of competition. The Hawks have had some close calls against some of the worst teams in league, winning by five points or less in a game against Oklahoma City and two games each against Washington and Charlotte.
"We've got to learn how to play at a higher level every night," Johnson said.
The Hawks will be looking to put an end to their struggles against the four-time defending Central Division champion Pistons (14-10).
Detroit swept the four-game season series from Atlanta in 2007-08, and has won eight of the last nine meetings. The Pistons have also won eight of the last 10 in Atlanta, but the Hawks have been tough to beat at Philips Arena this season.
The Hawks, who are in the midst of an eight-game homestand, are 10-2 in Atlanta.
The Pistons have lost four of their last six on the road, but are coming off a tough 120-114 double overtime home loss to Utah on Friday.
Detroit went with a small lineup most of the game featuring Allen Iverson, Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey, and was playing with a short bench after regulation. Rasheed Wallace fouled out in the first overtime, and Hamilton, Stuckey and Antonio McDyess each picked up their sixth fouls in the second.
"It's tough when you lose that many guys, especially when they don't have anyone foul out," Iverson said.
Iverson scored a season-high 38 and Hamilton added 30 to become the first Detroit teammates to score 30 points in the same game since Hamilton and Chauncey Billups did it against Golden State on March 1, 2003.
Iverson appears to be getting in an offensive rhythm, as he's averaging 28.7 points on 56.6 percent shooting in his last three games after averaging 15.7 points on 40.0 percent shooting in his previous three.
He scored 56 points in the two games against the Hawks last season while with Denver, and is averaging 34.8 points in six games versus Atlanta since 2005-06 - his best average against any opponent in that span.