ATLANTA - After winning 60 games last season and beginning this campaign at 7-1, the Atlanta Hawks have fallen on some hard times. Their three-point shooting, so instrumental in last season's success, has been pedestrian, ranking in the bottom half of the NBA after finishing second to Golden State last season.
After losing their previous three, you had the feeling the Hawks might be ready to rectify some offensive shortcomings against the 76ers, who haven't exactly proved to be a defensive juggernaut.
But it wasn't the bombs that killed the Sixers Wednesday night, it was the jabs. In building a lead that got as high as 23 in the first half, Atlanta shot 63 percent. Of the 27 shots the Hawks made, 15 were either layups or dunks. They drove the lane with no hindrance, scored on backdoors as if the Sixers were pylons and ran pick-and-rolls as if they had invented them. It helped the Hawks stop a three-game losing streak in handing the Sixers a 127-106 defeat. In allowing the most points they have this season, the Sixers dropped to 1-26.
"Everybody recognizes and is very appreciative of how hard they compete and how hard they play every night," said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, whose team improved to 15-12. "It's impressive how hard they play.
"For us, if you feel like you're getting good shots and shots in the paint, I think we believe in our guys, and, ultimately, the worm will turn and good things will happen."
It started Wednesday. Just for good measure, Atlanta also hit 10 of its 21 three-pointers and moved the ball so well it had 32 assists on 48 made field goals.
Some of the Hawks' offensive success in the paint might have been because of the absence of Nerlens Noel, who missed his second straight game with a corneal abrasion. Much of his minutes were admirably taken by Richaun Holmes, who totaled 12 points (including a highlight dunk), seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Except for Noel and Carl Landry, coach Brett Brown had a full roster at his disposal, as Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten played together for the first time this season since coming back from knee surgeries. Brown elected not to have them on the floor together much, mostly rotating them with Isaiah Canaan, who scored 24 points. Jahlil Okafor went for 19 points and seven rebounds, while Wroten scored 12.
Nerlens Noel wore protective goggles during the team's shootaround Wednesday morning and said he hopes to be back in the lineup Friday when the team hosts the New York Knicks. He expects to wear the goggles for a couple of games . . . The Sixers will finish out the week with a game at Cleveland on Sunday afternoon. It will be the third time the Sixers have faced the Cavs already this season . . . Brett Brown said he spent some time Tuesday in Atlanta with Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. The two were assistants together in San Antonio. "He's a dear friend," said Brown. "Think of the experiences I've had with him, going to five NBA championships, winning four of them. Playing late in June a few times, playing late in May lots of times."
On Twitter: @BobCooney76