Don't misunderestimate the Atlanta Hawks. Because the team isn't on a torrid 60-game pace like last year, most casual fans have written them off as largely mediocre. When the team started probing the league for interest in stars Al Horford, Paul Milsap and Kyle Korver even some of their most ardent defenders decided to jump ship.
The truth, however, is that the team sits at 38-29 and fighting for a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference behind some of the league's best defense. The Pistons open their epic nine-game homestand with one of it's toughest challenges, and while I'm sure the "ass kicking" Detroit received at the hands of the struggling Wizards will ensure their focused and into the game, beating the Hawks will be no easy task.
Where: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
When: Wednesday, March 16, 7:30 PM EST
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
Pop quiz, hot shot. Who has the NBA's best defense since the All-Star break? The answer is the Atlanta Hawks at an astonishing 93.0 points per 100 possessions, better by 3.7 points per 100 than the second-place Spurs. Their absolute defensive dominance has allowed them to collect the league's third-best net rating since the break despite having the league's second-worst offense in the same span.
For the Pistons to get the better of the Hawks, they will need to maximize their rebounding advantage on both ends. I don't anticipate for the Pistons to hit remarkably better than the sub-40 percent field goal efficiency than the Hawks are allowing opponents to hit, so Andre Drummond and others will need to collect and capitalize on second-chance opportunities.
The interesting thing about the Hawks is that despite their lack of rebounding and with no shot-blocking presence or any sense of intimidating size, only three teams allow fewer points in the paint.
Defensively, Detroit will need to communicate and play disciplined on- and off-ball defense. The only team that assists on more baskets are the Golden State Warriors, and in Atlanta it is truly a team effort. Jeff Teague leads the team with just 5.7 assists per game, but five of his teammates contribute more than two assists per game.
Essentially, Atlanta can't necessarily break you down off the dribble, but they will execute, find the open man and that man will sink a jump on the regular. Detroit needs to stay disciplined an make the Hawks' inevitable jump shot a tough look.
Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond
Hawks: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap, Al Horford
Andre Drummond vs. Al Horford
Drummond struggles against centers who can leak out and hit a jumper, and Horford takes 47 percent of his shots from 16 feet or farther. Usually, long twos are frowned upon as the kiss of death, but Horford is hitting an eye-popping 49.8 percent from 16-23 feet. He's hitting a less scary but still dangerous 35.2 percent on threes. Drummond needs to be willing to leave the paint, especially because Teague and backup Dennis Schroeder are not super dangerous threats at the rim. Drummond will also need to absolutely dominate on the boards. If Dre grabs less than 16 boards, I'd put the chances of a Pistons victory pretty low.
Last Time We Met
Dec. 23rd, 2015 at Phillips Arena, Atlanta wins 107-100
With 7:29 remaining down one (36-35), the Hawks used a 24-7 run to take a 59-42 lead with 50.9 left and led 61-45 at the half. Detroit shot just 27.3 percent (6-22 FG) from the field in the second quarter. The Pistons battled back in the fourth to cut Atlanta’s lead to eight (105-97) with 1:52 remaining, but Detroit was unable to complete the comeback. Andre Drummond had 25 points and 12 rebounds and Marcus Morris scored 22 points. Reggie Jackson scored 19 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 12 points. Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 23 points and nine assists.
What will Detroit's record be during this nine-game homestand?