The Atlanta Hawks are all but assured of a playoff spot. Their recent effort, though, hardly resembles that of a postseason-caliber club.
The Hawks will try to avoid a seventh loss in nine games as they close their season series with the visiting Detroit Pistons on Sunday.
Atlanta (39-30) sits comfortably in fifth place in the East and is likely to make a fourth consecutive playoff appearance thanks to winning 33 of its first 51 games.
Since Feb. 8, though, the Hawks have lost 12 of 18 while averaging 89.3 points - a league low over that span.
Coach Larry Drew’s team has been blown out at home in its last two games - against Denver and Miami - and was held below 90 points in both, falling to 2-16 when that happens. The Hawks have shot 42.9 percent from the field in those two defeats and 8 of 31 from 3-point range (25.8 percent).
“We just took some ill-advised jump shots once again,” Drew said after Friday’s 106-85 loss to the Heat. “We’ve talked about it before the game, we talked about it at halftime. This is a team that has to be a little bit more selective particularly when they’re not making shots.
“You have to get the ball moving from one side of the floor to the other, you have to drive it, and then you take the open one at that point. You just cant go out seeking the three.”
“I think all teams go through struggling times,” Drew said. “It’s not one of those things where you start feeling sorry for yourselves. … You just go out as a team and you roll your sleeves up and you just keep battling and keep battling until you break through this little rut.”
Smith could help in doing just that, as he has averaged 25.0 points and 9.6 rebounds in three matchups with Detroit this season - leading Atlanta to two victories.
The Hawks’ current 2-6 slump overall includes five home losses, but the Pistons have lost six straight on the road and five in a row in Atlanta while averaging just 86.0 points.
Detroit (25-44), though, is averaging 103.0 points on 49.7 percent shooting in its last two games, including a 99-95 win over New York on Friday night.
The Pistons overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to record back-to-back victories for the first time since Feb. 4-5.
“We’ve been communicating with our guys telling them all the time that you have to be ready,” coach John Kuester said. “What happened was our guys responded and did a great job.”
Villanueva scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 11 rebounds in a 103-80 win over Atlanta on Dec. 14.
Richard Hamilton(notes) had 24 points in that victory, but his status for this matchup is unknown after he missed Friday’s game due to the death of his grandfather. Hamilton is averaging 19.8 points in his last four games.