ATLANTA (AP) — The Sixers are making the NBA’s lockout-induced compressed schedule a vehicle to show off their superior depth and resiliency.
Playing without Elton Brand and facing one of the Eastern Conference’s top five teams for the second straight night, Philadelphia had double figures from each of its four bench players to overwhelm the Atlanta Hawks 98-87 Saturday night.
Rookie Nikola Vucevic set a career high with 15 points to lead six Philadelphia scorers in double figures. The Sixers dodged back-to-back losses once again one night after Friday night’s disappointing 99-79 home loss to Miami.
“Tonight was one of those games where somebody was going to lose two in a row, and it wasn’t going to be us,” Philadelphia’s Lou Williams said.
The Sixers and the Hawks began the night tied for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia played like an elite team while Atlanta had 15 turnovers in its second straight home loss.
Brand sprained his right thumb when it was caught in a jersey in the loss to Miami. Rookie Lavoy Allen of Temple made his first career start and had four points and four rebounds as the fill-in for Brand.
Vucevic, one of the high-scoring reserves, made 7 of 10 shots from the field. Thaddeus Young and Williams each had 14 points and Evan Turner added 11 off the bench.
“What a difference keeping our big guys fresh,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said. “This was our fourth game in six nights and with the emotional game with Miami last night, I can’t tell you how proud I am of the guys.”
More good news for Philadelphia was the return of center Spencer Hawes, who had 14 points after missing 10 games with a left Achilles’ strain.
“This season is going to be weird like that,” Hawes said. “There’s going to be different guys every night.”
Hawes applauded the play of Allen and Vucevic in Brand’s absence.
“That’s what you’ve got to have,” Hawes said. “That’s the measure of teams that are able to thrive in this kind of setup.”
Jeff Teague had 21 points to lead Atlanta.
The Sixers led by 20 in the third period and kept the lead in double figures until the Hawks staged a final comeback attempt. Joe Johnson’s basket with 1:45 remaining cut Philadelphia’s lead to 94-85. Williams, returning to his Atlanta home, answered with back-to-back baskets.
Andre Iguodala had nine points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Sixers.
The Sixers dominated the second period to lead by 16 points at halftime and stretched the lead to 20 points in the third period.
Undrafted rookie Ivan Johnson, who recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, tried to keep Atlanta close. Johnson started the second half ahead of Zaza Pachulia after he had eight rebounds and six points in less than 9 minutes in the first half.
“What I was trying to do in the second half was find some guys who could bring the energy,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “I started Ivan because he brings the energy. … If he keeps providing that, he’s going to play more minutes.”
Johnson had three straight baskets for Atlanta late in the third period as the Hawks pulled to within 12 points. The Hawks couldn’t take advantage of opportunities to cut the lead to 10, and the Sixers closed the period with a 7-0 run to stretch the lead back to 19 at 81-62.
A 3-pointer by Vladimir Radmanovic helped Atlanta open the final period with a 13-4 run to close to within 10 at 85-75, but they couldn’t trim the deficit to single figures.
Josh Smith missed his first eight shots before scoring on a drive midway through the third period. Smith had nine points and 10 rebounds. Joe Johnson had 16 points.
The Hawks have lost back-to-back home games to Memphis and Philadelphia after winning the final three games of a 4-1 road trip.
The Hawks said backup center Jason Collins, who sprained his left elbow in Thursday’s loss to Memphis, will miss at least two weeks. Collins said the sprain was “moderate.”
Collins had assumed a more prominent role as the primary backup to Pachulia with All-Star center Al Horford was lost for three months with a torn left pectoral muscle.
“We haven’t been having a post player since Al left,” Smith said. “That’s not an excuse we’re going to make.”
NOTES: The Sixers, who took a 90-76 win over Atlanta in Philadelphia on Jan. 20, have won four straight over the Hawks for the first time since Feb. 4, 2005 through Dec. 14, 2005. … Smith blocked seven shots, three shy of his career high. … The Sixers had 17 points off Atlanta’s 15 turnovers. … The Hawks had a 47-37 edge in rebounds.
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