Published January 31, 2017
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks no longer have to worry about being the first team to lose to the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Sixers got that monkey off their back on Friday, when they beat the Indiana Pacers 109-105 in overtime. Philadelphia had started the season with seven consecutive losses. The win broke a 44-game losing streak in October and November that began on Nov. 22, 2013.
Now the two Eastern Conference foes meet for the second time on Saturday at Philips Arena. Atlanta crushed Philadelphia 105-72 on Oct. 29, despite trailing 8-0. It was the worst loss of the season for the Sixers.
But the Sixers (1-7) have played better lately, losing to the Pacers 122-115 in overtime on Wednesday and dropping a one-point decision to Cleveland on Nov. 5.
Joel Embiid led the Philadelphia win with 25 points -- 18 in the fourth quarter and overtime -- and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova and Nik Stauskas each added 14 points off the bench.
"It feels great to finally close a game out," Embiid said. "We should be like 5-3. I want to be the best player every time I step on the court."
Coach Brett Brown said, "We saw the best of Joel Embiid when it mattered the most."
The Hawks (6-2) haven't played since their 115-107 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. Atlanta had eight players score in double figures that game, led by reserve Thabo Sefolosha with a season-high 20 points.
"We're still building and learning to play with one another," Sefolosha said.
Dwight Howard has fit into his role with the club. No longer expected to carry a large percent of the offensive load, Howard has been able to concentrate on his defense and rim protection duties. Howard is averaging 15.9 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots. Howard has six double-doubles in eight games.
Howard has helped elevate the Hawks to No. 7in the league in rebounding. Last year they were 24th.
"The effort by everybody to rebound has been good, but particularly in their effort on the offensive boards there is a real noticeable different," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Atlanta has won the last four meetings between the two teams and has won five straight at home. Philadelphia hasn't won in Atlanta since April 5, 2013.
Atlanta forward Tiago Splitter has taken a step toward rejoining the team from the right hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined since training camp. Splitter has started to participate in the non-contact portion of practice.
Philadelphia forward Jahlil Okafor was supposed to be inactive on Friday, part of the scheduled rest he's receiving while recovering from knee surgery. But he was pressed into action and played two minutes. Okafor is expected to start against Atlanta. He's played seven games and is averaging 10.3 points and 3.4 rebounds.
The Sixers are expected to rest Embiid on Saturday while Okafor plays. The center, who averages 17.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, is recovering from a second foot surgery.
Philadelphia has struggled with injuries all season. Top draft pick Ben Simmons had foot surgery and may miss the entire season. Jerryd Bayless (sore left wrist ligament) and Nerlens Noel (left knee) are also out.