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  1. “There can be only one…” Another back-to-back, Jack! Coming off a successful twin-billing at home this past weekend, tonight starts one of just two back-to-back sets left for the Atlanta Hawks. Both include a trip to Greater Motown to face the Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Detroit). Hoping to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009, Detroit (34-33) comes into tonight’s contest looking every bit like a young, upstart .500 team. Is this a team that’s won three of their last five, or lost four of their last seven? Are they winners of seven in their past eleven games, or losers of nine out of their previous 16 games? Are these the Pistons that won, in recent weeks, in Cleveland, at home against Toronto, and by 20 versus Portland? Or is Stan Van Gundy’s club the team whose last four road losses were by double-digits, including a 33-point nationally-televised blowout on Monday, against fellow 8-seed contender Washington? The answer to all of that is, yes, these are those Pistons. And with Joe Dumars a distant memory around Auburn Hills, Pistons fans couldn’t be much happier. Detroit is just a percentage-point behind the Bulls for 8th in the Eastern Conference, and tonight, they will embark upon a NINE-game homestand. Yes, nine games, for a team that’s a modest 19-11 in the roller rink otherwise known as the Palace. Detroit knows that a surge over the next 17 days at home could have them charging right up the standings. They’re also aware that anything less than a 5-4 mark out of this homestand would turn postseason hopes into a pipe dream. Tonight, these Pistons hope to get even with Atlanta’s tepid (22-18) in-conference record. After hosting the Hawks, the Pistons have four relative cupcakes (Sacramento, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Orlando) paying them a visit. Then it’s the red-hot Hornets. Then, whaddya know, it’s those Hawks again, one night after Atlanta hosts the Bucks. Then the Thunder, and finally the Mavericks, one night before traveling to Chicago. SVG knows there won’t be much room for error after that. As was the case this weekend with the Pacers, the Hawks (38-29) hope to have the Pistons stumbling into their upcoming schedule, not soaring and using a win over Atlanta to build momentum. The Hawks have some chasing to do as well. The reigning Southeast Division champs are just a game behind Joe Johnson’s Miami heat, along with the potentially sliding Boston Celtics, in the standings. They’re 20-14 this season in games of back-to-back sets, but that included a 6-0 start to the season. They can match that early-season run, but not if they get caught looking past opponents like Detroit. In the teams’ last meeting in December, the Pistons came into Philips one night after, first, coming from way behind to prevail in Miami, then enduring weather delays that prevented their arrival in ATL until the morning of the game. Early and sporadically, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer deployed a Hack A. Drummond strategy, using Lamar Patterson, Tiago Splitter, and Mike Scott as part of the tag-team. Andre sunk 7 of his 25 points, but missed 11 free throws as the Pistons fell too far behind to catch up. Despite losing by just 107-100, the Pistons found themselves in a 19-point fourth-quarter hole before Atlanta kicked into cruise control. Drummond (league-highs 15.0 RPG, 34.6 D-Reb%) remains a top-notch defensive threat, but SVG has his All-Star center going after rebounds and steals, not Whitesiding and imperiling the paint by chasing after uncommitted shooters in search of box-score-busting blocks. Van Gundy upgraded the frontline by flipping Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando (along with Brandon Jennings) in exchange for Tobias Harris. But it’s really going to help the Pistons if forwards Harris, Marcus Morris, and rookie Stanley Johnson can help Drummond make stops. Harris is averaging 4.9 defensive boards through 13 games, and while that’s below his averages in Orlando, it still counts as second-best on the team. Detroit’s 3.6 blocks per game ranks 29th in the league, and their 7.3 steals average ranks just 21st. The Pistons are not strong shooters (26th in FG%, 22nd in 3FG%, last thanks to Drummond in FT%). But they are very stingy with turnovers (12.2 TO%, 6th-best in NBA), and they crash the boards after every carom (27.1 O-Reb% and 14.9 second-chance PPG, both 2nd in NBA). On defense, Paul Millsap and Kris Humphries must help Al Horford keep the paint clear of pernicious Pistons. The Pacers on Sunday couldn’t tell whether the frontcourt duo of Millsap and Horford (15-for-29 FGs vs. DET on Dec. 23) were coming or going (combined 11-for-18 2FGs, 4-for-8 3FGs vs. IND). Their ability to command defensive help has been freeing up Kyle Korver (4-for-9 3FGs vs. IND), whose 3FG% has grown from 29.3% in December, to 38.7% in January, 42.3% in February, and 52.8% mid-way through March. Leading scorer and dime-maker Reggie Jackson (career-high 22.3 points per-36 and 36.8 3FG%; 36.0 Assist%, 10th in NBA) helps Van Gundy push a Piston pace not seen by Michiganders since the days of Alvin Gentry, back around the year 2000. The less defensive pressure Jackson feels, the better Detroit’s chances for victory. The Pistons are just 2-9 (one win coming this past week, in Philly) when opponents get 10 or more steals, and the Hawks’ 19.2 PPG off turnovers now leads the NBA. Jackson commits 2.2 TOs per game (6.8 APG; 50.1 FG%; 48.5 3FG%) in wins, 3.2 TOs (5.5 APG; 38.2 FG%; 26.1 3FG%) in losses. Detroit’s ability to execute their offense successfully will be tied to Jeff Teague (4 steals vs. DET on Dec. 23) and the Hawks’ defensive effort versus R-Jax, whose defensive effort also falters when his offense isn’t fiyah. Dennis Schröder scored 11 of his 14 points in the first quarter of the last Hawks-Pistons matchup in December. Teague followed that up with nine of his team-high 23 points and four assists in the second. One X-Factor for the Pistons’ playoff hopes, but not tonight, will eventually be Jodie Meeks, who hasn’t played since October after injuring his foot, but will be activated soon. His fellow Georgian, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, has done a solid job of defending the perimeter, and will be busy chasing Korver (40.2 3FG% on the road) around tonight. But by the time of the Hawks’ next visit, Meeks could be the player that helps stretch the floor to the benefit of Drummond and Jackson. Detroit is the kind of up-and-coming team that could use a come-up against the Hawks, especially if Atlanta is the kind of team they might face in the first round of the playoffs. Winners of five of their last six, the Hawks can continue to whet their mettle, along the way to the postseason, by pulling off at least one Palace coup. Have a Happy St. Pat’s Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record