The Atlanta Hawks are the toast of the Eastern Conference at the moment, as the team has won six consecutive games (and 20 out of 22 contests) after another exciting win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday evening. However, the top seed in the East does not currently boast the longest winning streak in the NBA, as that honor is bestowed upon the Josh Smith-less Detroit Pistons. In a fantastic scheduling quirk, these two teams square off on Friday night in Auburn Hills.
By now you likely know that the Pistons parted ways with former Hawks star Josh Smith by simply waiving his contract more than two weeks ago. Since that time, Detroit has won seven consecutive games, and they look like a completely different club. In those wins, Stan Van Gundy's club has outscored opponents by 17.2 points per 100 possessions (best in the NBA), and they are doing it on both ends of the floor effectively.
Perhaps the biggest key to this game will be the point guard match-up, and while we seemingly refer to that every night, Brandon Jennings is playing quite well for Detroit. Admittedly, Jennings is the definition of a streaky player, but the former Bucks point guard is capable of hanging 25 points on anyone, and Jeff Teague will have his hands full if "good" Jennings arrives. Speaking of Teague, he has a streak of his own working right now, as Atlanta's floor general has exceeded 20 points in six straight games while making the full-fledged leap to the edge of stardom.
Up front, the Hawks must deal with Andre Drummond, who is a physical presence that is nearly unmatched in the league today. Many have characterized this season as a disappointment for the 21-year-old, but he is averaging 12.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game for the year, and that jumps to 14.5 points, 17.0 (!!) rebounds and 2.1 blocks per contest over the last 10 games. Al Horford will certainly get the majority of time against Drummond, but look for Pero Antic and possibly Elton Brand to be deployed, with an emphasis on sending Drummond (a 40.5% career free throw shooter) to the line.
Atlanta is better than Detroit, and that is indisputable. However, the Pistons are playing inspired basketball right now (as shown by a lopsided win over Dallas in their last outing), and they are more than capable of ending the roll that the Hawks are currently on by continuing that mojo. This game looked like one of the least appealing on the schedule just two weeks ago, but things are quite different now. Stay tuned.
Game Date/Time: Friday, January 9, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Michigan
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM