Detroit (20-13) at Atlanta (10-23)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Atlanta, GA
Temp: 70° F
  • Game info: 7:30 pm EST Fri Jan 12, 2007
  • TV: FSS
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The Detroit Pistons are hoping Friday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks is their last without All-Star guard Chauncey Billups.

The Pistons (20-13) are suffering through their worst stretch of the season, losing five of seven games. Billups has missed the last five games with a strained right calf and Detroit has only won twice in that span.

The point guard has been working to strengthen his calf and is targeting a return for Saturday’s home game against Boston.

Flip Murray has started the last five games in place of Billups and Will Blalock has served as the backup.

Since joining the starting lineup, Murray has averaged 6.6 assists—only 1 1/2 below Billups’ season average—but his 11.4 scoring average is about 6 1/2 worse than Billups and he’s shot 38.6 percent from the field. Blalock has seen his minutes increase, but has totaled only 13 points and six assists over the past five games.

“They’ve been thrown into the fire, but it will be good for them and for us in the long run,” Pistons guard Richard Hamilton said. “We might need those guys in the playoffs.”

Detroit is trying to bounce back after losing to lowly Charlotte for the second time this season, 103-96 on Wednesday. The Pistons managed only eight points in the second quarter—their lowest-scoring period of the season—and never quite recovered.

“We missed a lot of wide open shots,” Murray said. “We had wide open looks. I won’t say it was nothing that they did, we still executed our plays we had open looks and they got a little aggressive. We had good looks.”

Hamilton was ejected for the first time this season after picking up two technicals late in the game.

The Pistons are 2-0 against the Hawks (10-23) this season, including a 108-81 victory on Dec. 23 in which Atlanta was missing Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Tyronn Lue and Zaza Pachulia due to injuries.

“Last time we played them, they had three, four, maybe five guys out and I know it is tough for them right now, but they are still going to come out with that same energy,” Blalock said. “They are at home and we just have to bring it.”

Some of those players are still out for the struggling Hawks, who lost to New Orleans 96-77 on Wednesday. Atlanta played without Lue, its second-leading scorer, and Smith, who’s fourth on the team in points and fifth in the NBA in blocks. Pachulia missed the second half with a left ankle injury.

“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for our team,” coach Mike Woodson said. “We had no energy. Given that we played last night and they were off, I thought they set the tone from the beginning to end.”

The Hawks have dropped 10 of 11 and have failed to score 100 points in their last nine. They were limited to 33.3 percent shooting Wednesday.

Leading scorer Joe Johnson turned in one of his worst shooting efforts of the season, making 6-of-24 from the field for 13 points.

“It’s been tough for us, period, lately,” Johnson said. “We just haven’t been able to get it going.”

Atlanta is averaging an Eastern Conference-worst 91.8 points per game.

The Pistons have won eight of nine overall against the Hawks, and six of seven in Atlanta.

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Friday, Jan 12