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Published: Thursday, 2/12/2009

Hawks beat Pistons in possible first-round matchup

ASSOCIATED PRESS

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. The Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons are in unfamiliar territory.

Atlanta has its best record at the All-Star break in a decade while Detroit hasn t been this bad in several years.

Joe Johnson scored 27 points and Flip Murray had 23 Wednesday night, leading Atlanta to a 99-95 win over Detroit.

If the postseason started Wednesday, the Hawks would ve hosted the Pistons, who don t seem equipped to handle Atlanta s energy, talent and offensive options.

Atlanta would win the tiebreaker, if it finishes the regular season tied with Detroit, because it has won two of the three scheduled meetings.

It makes a big difference because the fourth seed gets home-court advantage, Murray said. That makes this a big win.

The Hawks took the lead late for good in the third quarter, and after Detroit pulled within two with 9.4 seconds left, Johnson made two free throws to seal the win.

The Hawks (31-21) have won four of five, matching the most wins they ve had going into All-Star weekend in a decade after pushing the Boston Celtics to the brink of elimination in the first round last year.

That shows that we ve got a lot of guys that are hungry last year after getting a taste of success in the first round against the world champs, coach Mike Woodson said.

Allen Iverson scored 26 for the Pistons, who fell a game under .500 since he joined the lineup.

It s not a good feeling, Iverson said. The whole thing is to stay positive, stay together, not to point fingers and play the blame game.

You don t win a championship at the All-Star break.

In addition to Atlanta s 20-point scorers, Al Horford scored 15, Marvin Williams had 11 and Josh Smith added 10 to give the up-and-coming team balance offensively.

Detroit held Smith and Mike Bibby to less than half of their combined average, but didn t defend a former teammate very well.

Flip Murray s 23 points were a killer, Pistons coach Michael Curry said.

The Pistons cut Murray nearly a year ago.

Detroit s Richard Hamilton scored 14, Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince each scored 12 and Antonio McDyess added 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Rasheed Wallace didn t play for the last 16-plus minutes and finished with nine points and seven rebounds.

His knee was bothering him, Curry said.

Detroit (27-24) heads into the break after losing three straight, 12 of 17 and falling to 23-24 since Iverson joined the team in a trade for Chauncey Billups.

I don t even pay attention to our record anymore, Hamilton said.

That s probably a good idea.

The Pistons, who won the NBA title five years ago during an active streak of six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals, have their worst record at the break since 2002.

I ve never been in this situation before, said Prince, who was a rookie during the 2002-03 season.

The Hawks led 48-46 at halftime after 13 lead changes and six ties.

Atlanta started the fourth period with an eight-point lead, its largest, thanks to Murray making all four of his shots and scoring 10 points in the third.

Flip had it going on, so I started running some set plays for him, Woodson said. When a guy gets hot like that, you ve got to milk it.



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