Heating up at right time, Hawks take on NBA-worst Pistons

Heating up at right time, Hawks take on NBA-worst Pistons

The Atlanta Hawks, who have won five of their past six games, continue their push for the playoffs Wednesday when they host the Detroit Pistons.The Hawks (35-40) are the No. 10 seed in the Eastern

The Atlanta Hawks, who have won five of their past six games, continue their push for the playoffs Wednesday when they host the Detroit Pistons.

The Hawks (35-40) are the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference. They could catch No. 9 Chicago, which is a half-game ahead, with a win over the Pistons.

Since the Bulls won the season series, they have the tiebreaker, meaning the Hawks need to finish the season with one more victory than Chicago to claim home court in the NBA play-in tournament.

Atlanta beat the Bulls 113-101 in Chicago on Monday.

“This was a huge, big game,” Atlanta’s Jalen Johnson said. “We’re probably going to see these guys again. The ninth seed was on the line, so we’ve just got to keep taking advantage of our opportunities.”

Johnson returned after missing nine games with a right ankle sprain and had 11 points, four rebounds and two steals. Johnson was used off the bench and is on restricted minutes.

The Hawks also got rookie Kobe Bufkin back after he missed 14 games with a sprained big left toe. The first-round pick played 17 minutes and helped spell Dejounte Murray, who has borne most of the playmaking responsibilities since Trae Young was injured.

Murray was the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 28.3 points, 10.3 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 41.1 minutes over four games, including two wins against No. 1 Boston.

Although the Hawks continue to be without Young, who has missed 19 games with a torn ligament in his left hand, and backup center Onyeka Okongwu (left big toe sprain), coach Quin Snyder was pleased with his team’s ability to move the ball.

“It starts with the willingness to be unselfish, to execute and do all the things they’re doing for each other,” Snyder said. “We’ve got some guys who embrace it and are doing it. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Detroit (13-62) is last in the East and has the worst record in the league. The Pistons were beaten 110-108 by the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday and have lost nine of their past 10 games.

The bright spot in the loss was the play of Cade Cunningham. He scored 36 points and missed a tying 12-footer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into overtime. Cunningham averages 22.7 points and 7.5 assists.

“I told Cade that he’s going to win us a playoff game someday like that,” Detroit coach Monty Williams said.

Detroit center Jalen Duren left Monday’s game in the first quarter after colliding with Memphis’ Jaren Jackson Jr. Duren lost a tooth in the incident and did not return after being taken to the locker room. Duren, who is averaging 13.6 points and 11.8 rebounds, practiced Tuesday.

Atlanta won the first two games of the season series with Detroit, but both games were close. The Hawks prevailed 126-120 on Nov. 14 in Detroit and 130-124 on Dec. 18 in Atlanta.

The Hawks have won six straight against the Pistons.