Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore lead Atlanta Hawks past Philadelphia 76ers

By Gordie Jones, The Sports Xchange
Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (L) takes a rebound away from Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (R) during the second half on Dec. 30, 2016 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (L) takes a rebound away from Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (R) during the second half on Dec. 30, 2016 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. EPA/ERIK S. LESSER

PHILADELPHIA -- With an NBA playoff berth hanging in the balance, the Atlanta Hawks are trying to regain their form.

It helped that Dwight Howard and Kent Bazemore were at their best Wednesday night.


Howard collected 22 points and 20 rebounds, and Bazemore, playing his first game after missing the previous five with a bruised right knee, added 19 points as Atlanta held off the Philadelphia 76ers 99-92.

Tim Hardaway Jr. also had 19 for the Hawks, who won their second straight game since ending a seven-game losing streak. Now 39-36, they are tied with Milwaukee for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

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"We've got to keep going," Howard said after his 50th double-double of the season, and his third 20-20 game. "These two games are behind us. We gave seven games away. We're going to need these games going into the playoffs."


Bazemore, who said he is "super close" to being 100 percent, played nearly 20 minutes off the bench and went 6 of 10 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.

"I got to the free-throw line," he said. "I was still getting by guys. I was still making the right plays offensively, making open shots -- pretty much what I want to do on a nightly basis anyway."

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Ersan Ilyasova, playing his first game in Philadelphia since he was traded to Atlanta on Feb. 22, had 14 points, all in the first half. Dennis Schroder contributed 14 as well.

Howard set the tone, however, against a depleted Philadelphia front line. The Sixers are without center Joel Embiid (knee) for the season, and another center, Jahlil Okafor, missed his fourth straight game and fifth in the last six with a sore right knee.

That left Richaun Holmes and Development League call-up Shawn Long to battle Howard. Holmes scored a career-high 25 points and Long had 10, but Howard had his way.

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"A lot of it was just Dwight," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think they were a little thin on the front line, and I think we could take advantage of it."


Howard made 8 of 17 shots, as well as 6 of 7 free throws -- a bonus, considering he is a notoriously bad foul shooter.

"He's an imposing presence, and I just tried to do the best I could against him," Holmes said. "It's another challenge, playing against the best in the world. He's one of the best in the world. It's another challenge, another way to learn and another way to get better, so I enjoyed it."

Atlanta led for all but the first few minutes, but the Sixers used an 11-2 run to cut the gap to 83-81 with 8:21 left in the game.

Hardaway then nailed a 3-pointer to trigger a 12-5 spurt, putting the Hawks up 95-86 with 1:44 remaining. Schroder scored four points in that run, and Howard chipped in three.

Dario Saric added 15 points for Philadelphia but shot 5 of 18 from the floor.

The Sixers shot 41.4 percent in all, but were 11 of 39 (28.2 percent) from 3-point range. The Hawks, meanwhile, made 9 of 18 attempts from the arc.

Besides Embiid and Okafor, the Sixers were without Sergio Rodriguez for the second straight game because of a strained left hamstring. He will be re-evaluated next week.


Robert Covington was also unavailable after injuring his right knee in Tuesday's victory at Brooklyn.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta's leading scorer, missed the seventh straight game because of a sore left knee. Thabo Sefolosha sat out his third straight with a strained groin.

Ilyasova scored nine straight Atlanta points in one first-quarter stretch and finished the period with 12, helping the Hawks to a 25-18 lead by the end of the period.

By halftime, the Hawks were up 52-43. Besides Ilyasova's 14 points in the first 24 minutes, Howard contributed 13, along with 10 rebounds, and Bazemore scored 11.

Saric and Holmes had 10 first-half points for Philadelphia. The Sixers missed 14 of 20 3-point attempts, while the Hawks went 7 of 11 from the arc. Bazemore made all three of his attempts, and Ilyasova was 2-for-2.

The Sixers crept within four, 74-70, late in the third quarter, but Schroder converted a layup and Bazemore tacked on a three-point play with 4.3 seconds left.

Hardaway then opened the fourth-quarter scoring with a jumper, giving the Hawks an 81-70 cushion, but the Sixers responded with their 11-2 spurt, which included four points by Holmes and three by Saric.


NOTES: Sixers C Tiago Splitter, acquired from Atlanta on Feb. 22, dressed but did not play. He appeared in his first game since Jan. 31, 2016, on Tuesday night in Brooklyn, having undergone hip surgery last February. He was also plagued by calf problems. ... Philadelphia F Robert Covington underwent an MRI on his right knee earlier in the day, but a team spokesman said the results were not yet known. ... Sixers G Gerald Henderson returned after missing Tuesday's game in Brooklyn with a sore hip. He scored five points off the bench. ... The Sixers, 10-72 a year ago, are on pace to triple their victory total. "This group has exceeded expectations all over the place," coach Brett Brown said ... Brown also praised Atlanta F Ersan Ilyasova, an ex-Sixer. "He was a complete, serious pro -- ruthless in his own preparation," Brown said. "He taught more by example than through voice."

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