January 08, 2015

After quieting some critics with their latest impressive win, the Detroit Pistons still feel they have more to prove.

An opportunity for further validation comes Saturday night, when the rolling Pistons host the Atlanta Hawks in a matchup of two of the East's hottest teams.

Detroit (39-34) has won a season-high five straight after opening a nine-game homestand with a 118-114 loss to the Hawks on March 16, enhancing its prospects for a first playoff berth since 2009. The first four came against sub.-500 opponents, but the Pistons were up to a rise in competition in Friday's 112-105 victory over surging Charlotte.

The streak has placed Detroit in a virtual tie with Indiana for seventh in the East, two games ahead of sliding Chicago.

"We're playing for something right now and we need to string together as many wins as possible," center Andre Drummond said. "We're doing a great job of doing that so far."

After gaining a measure of revenge against the Hornets, who won the previous two season meetings by a combined 35 points, Detroit next has a chance to atone for its lone defeat in its past nine outings at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Atlanta (43-30) presents a formidable challenge, having won seven of eight and 12 of 15 to move a half-game ahead of second-place Miami in the Southeast Division and a half-game in front of Boston for third in the East.

Defense has keyed the revival, with the Hawks holding opponents to 40.4 percent shooting and 29.6 percent on 3-pointers - both league bests - over that 15-game span. They stifled Milwaukee down the stretch of their latest win, forcing six fourth-quarter turnovers and causing the Bucks to miss 13 of their last 18 shots in Friday's 101-90 victory.

Milwaukee, first in the league in points in the paint, was outscored 58-42 in the lane.

''We made a concerted effort to protect the paint,'' Jeff Teague said. ''We said we were going to live with them making outside shots.''

The Pistons are coming off a strong defensive performance of their own, limiting Charlotte to 36.5 percent inside the arc.

"We did a great job of pulling over and whenever I did go and help, somebody was back there to help me," Drummond said. "We were just on a string defensively."

Detroit has been making shots as well, averaging 110.4 points during its run. The league's worst free throw shooting team, the Pistons have gone 76.6 percent from the line over the streak.

Marcus Morris, who had 20 points against Charlotte, is 21 of 32 on 3-pointers over the last eight games. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 19.9 points over his last eight and returned from a one-game absence (illness) with 21 in Friday's win.

The Hawks overcame a 5 of 32 performance from long range against Milwaukee after recording at least 12 3s in six consecutive games. Teague and Kyle Korver were a combined 0 for 9, though Teague scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to help put the Bucks away.

Teague had eight fourth-quarter points and 22 overall in the March 16 win, Atlanta's second in three 2015-16 matchups with Detroit. He's averaging 21.0 points in the season series.

Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 16.3 rebounds in the series and had 18 and 19 in Detroit's 106-94 road win in the Oct. 27 opener.

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