ATLANTA - While icing his tendinitis after Tuesday's 117-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks, 76ers swingman Andre Iguodala read a book.

Technically, the game had ended only about 15 minutes earlier. But Iguodala had watched some of the third quarter and all of the fourth - no need risking injury in such a blowout - so to him it probably felt like a day-old victory by the time the locker room doors opened.

Book in hand, Iguodala relaxed as the ice bucket worked its magic on his often-aching Achilles tendon.

In a season where victories have arrived only after wire-to-wire effort, and even then arriving only intermittently, Tuesday's runaway win must have felt to the Sixers like coming upon an oasis in the desert.

Certainly, the Sixers have been winning. But not in the way they did against the Hawks. This was a stranglehold, a 34-point blowout that was every bit as bad as it sounds.

The only good news for the Hawks was that not many folks witnessed the start of this embarrassing loss and even fewer were present at its end: Atlanta announced a crowd of 12,903, but half of that would be a more accurate count, and by game's end no more than a third of that number remained.

The win improved the Sixers' record to 24-27. The Hawks, without injured all-star center Al Horford, dropped to 33-19.

"Going into it, I knew, and I told our guys that this would be a really tough ball game," said Atlanta coach Larry Drew. "This would be a game, it would have to be us coming in with a playoff intensity, because I've watched the Philadelphia team play. And looking back on the last time we played them, I thought we were very fortunate to have won that game."

That game, played Dec. 3, ended up being a 93-88 win for the Hawks. In that game, the Sixers led by 18 points in the second quarter, 13 in the fourth, and then, quite literally - Lou Williams lost the grip on a breakaway dunk that likely would have sealed the win - the Sixers let the game slip through their hands.

Keeping that loss in mind, and keeping an eye on future goals, Sixers coach Doug Collins coached Tuesday night's third quarter as if auditioning for the role of head coach. Never mind that the Sixers went to halftime ahead, 65-33, or that Atlanta wasn't just ready to roll over, but already had.

This was about the Sixers.

"Well, I just, for me the third quarter was all about maturity," Collins explained. "I told them that. I said, 'Guys, we'll find out how mature we are to start this third quarter. We don't want to let this team have any life.' "

Sixers guard Lou Williams, who scored a game-high 20 points, said that if Collins quits coaching, it gives the team the OK to quit playing, so they're perfectly fine with absorbing Collins' words and glances - even while leading by four touchdowns and a field goal.

"That shows growth right there," said Iguodala, who kindly lowered his book to speak about the largest margin of victory of the season. "Similar to our last game against the Hawks, we got off to a good start, good rhythm, good stops. But we came in at halftime and we discussed how important it was to win the third quarter."

It was like a little game within a game: Once the main objective - winning - has been reached, make it about more than that.

Make it about the future.

"Every night we feel like we can win, every ball game," said power forward Elton Brand, who scored 17 points. "It wasn't like this early on, but now it's definitely like that."

Blazing Starts

The Sixers' 65-33 halftime lead Tuesday night was their largest lead margin at the break this season. Here is a look at some of their notable first-half performances:

Date   Opponent   Half   Margin   Final

Feb. 8   at Hawks   65-33   32   W, 117-83

Nov. 3   vs. Indians   57-31   28   W, 101-75

Nov. 23   at Wizards   52-37   15   L, 116-114, OT

Feb. 2   at Nets   58-44   14   W, 106-92

Jan. 24   vs. Suns   61-47   14   W, 105-95

Dec. 29   at Suns   66-65    1   W, 123-110

Dec. 7   vs. Cavs   66-54   12   W, 117-97

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Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at kfagan@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DeepSixer3, and read her blog, Deep Sixer, on Philly.com.