Five observations from the Hawks’ 99-92 victory over the 76ers Wednesday, their second straight win after a seven-game losing streak.
1. Dwight Howard was big – literally. The Hawks center finished with 22 points and 20 rebounds. It was his sixth 20-rebound game this season.
“Obviously, Dwight Howard was dominant rebounding, scoring, making free throws,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He just did a lot of things really, really well and carried us.”
Howard had eight offensive rebounds, four assists and one blocked shots. He was 6 of 7 from the free-throw line. He made two free throws to follow a Tim Hardaway Jr. 3-pointer after the 76ers had closed to within two points in the fourth quarter. Heck, his first two baskets were mid-range jumpers.
“It’s something I know I can do,” Howard said of the jump shots. “It’s just me doing it and getting those opportunities to do it. It’s something I work on every single day.”
2. Welcome back Kent Bazemore. The guard returned after missing five games with a right knee bone bruise.
He showed no signs of rust.
Bazemore finished with 19 points, including four 3-pointers, in 20 minutes off the bench. He added four assists, four rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
“It helps that I’m easing my way back into things,” Bazemore said. “Less is more right now for me. Making the simple play. Shoot when you are open. Take what the defense gives you. I try that all the time but tonight was pretty much flawless on my behalf. It’s good to be back.”
The Hawks are still missing starters Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha but the return of Bazemore was a step in the right direction
3. Bazemore was on a limitation of about 20 minutes. He played 19:56. Budenholzer said he expects to gradually increase Bazemore’s minutes and he could see more in Saturday’s game at the Bulls but, if so, not by much.
The return of Bazemore didn’t affect the playing rotation with Mike Dunleavy out with right ankle soreness. There will be decisions to make when both are healthy and Sefolosha returns.
Budenholzer wouldn’t immediately commit to Bazemore returning to the starting lineup. Tim Hardaway Jr. has started in his absence.
“I don’t think we are prepared to really say anything either direction,” Budenholzer said.
4. It was a homecoming, of sorts, for Ersan Ilyasova. The Hawks acquired the forward from the 76ers in February.
Ilyasova was the early beneficiary of the 76ers’ strategy to slow Dennis Schroder. Ilyasova finished with 12 first-quarter points on 5 of 7 shooting. He had nine straight and 12 of 14 Hawks’ points in one stretch.
However, the 76ers adjusted at halftime and began to switch on the pick-and-roll. That freed Schroder to drive to the basket. The guard scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half.
“Second half, they switched,” Schroder said. “It is whatever it is. We just have to figure out a way to score. If it’s not me, somebody else has to score. We did that tonight.”
5. With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Hawks are still fighting for a playoff spot and position. The Hawks kept pace with the Bucks, who defeated the Celtics Wednesday. The Hawks and Bucks have the same record but the Hawks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Heat moved into seventh place with a win over the Knicks and the Pacers fell to eighth with a loss to the Grizzlies.
The Hawks are closer to clinching a playoff berth. They led the ninth-place Bulls by 3-1/2 games and three games in the loss column.
The back-to-back wins, including Tuesday over the Suns, have been important following the seven-game slide.
“I thought the level of play was good in those other games,” Howard said. “We just didn’t get over the hump. It’s something we didn’t control. These last two games we did a better job. We can still get better despite whoever is in the lineup.”