76ers 105, Hawks 100
Next stop, fifth place.
The streaking 76ers just might get there in the Eastern Conference, and rallying to beat the fading Hawks is one way to earn that playoff seed. Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young sparked the Sixers in the fourth quarter of a 105-100 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
The Sixers moved 2 1/2 games behind the Hawks for fifth in the East.
''That was one of the most gratifying wins of the season,'' Sixers coach Doug Collins said.
After a 3-13 start led to talk of the draft lottery, the Sixers have won 34 games since the end of November to slowly inch their way up the standings. Grabbing the fifth seed would keep them away from Chicago, Miami or Boston in the first round.
Collins said he hasn't discussed the standings lately with his team. With seven of their final 11 games at home - the 76ers are 23-11 in Philly following a 1-4 start - they could earn the No. 5 seed a year after missing the playoffs.
''We need help,'' Sixers forward Elton Brand said. ''We need them to lose games. If we get the help we need, then great.''
Williams scored 17 points, and Andre Iguodala and Young each had 16 to lead seven Sixers in double-digits. Iguodala has been bothered by right knee tendinitis and sat out Saturday's game against Portland.
The Sixers opened the fourth quarter on a 25-6 run to send the Hawks to their second demoralizing loss in two nights. The Bulls won in Atlanta 114-81 on Tuesday night.
Williams and Young got to the free-throw line and combined for 11 points that keyed the Sixers' rally off the bench in the fourth. Philadelphia was down 10 late in the third quarter before an 11-0 run early in the fourth fueled the comeback.
Josh Smith had 33 points and 12 rebounds for the slumping Hawks. Smith's 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left pulled the Hawks within three.
Iguodala hit two free throws to clinch the win - and keep fifth on the horizon.
''We need this, but we have not made anything yet,'' Brand said. ''We haven't been guaranteed a spot. We still have games to go.''
The reeling Hawks lost for the 14th time in 21 games. Coach Larry Drew bluntly called his team ''a little fragile right now'' before tipoff and admitted he needed the Hawks to play harder down the stretch.
''There are times where we need to see what people are made of,'' he said.
The Hawks started strong and showed no sign of any carry-over from the crushing defeat to the Bulls. They outscored the 76ers 14-0 on fast-break points in the first half and led by six at the break. Atlanta stretched the lead to 77-66 late in the third before the game slipped away.
Jrue Holiday and Williams hit 3-pointers in the final minutes to close within six. Williams and Young got rolling in the fourth and scored six points during the 11-0 run. Andres Nocioni's driving layup during the spurt put the Sixers up 81-80 and they never looked back.
Jodie Meeks buried a 3 for a 99-86 lead - Philadelphia's biggest of the game.
''They went on a run just like that,'' Smith said. ''I don't know if we relaxed or what.''
Meeks had 15 points, Holiday 12 and Brand had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
''I felt for three quarters, we played how we wanted to play on the road,'' Drew said. ''They got on the run and we just didn't recover.''
Notes: Hawks C Al Horford scored eight points in 37 minutes. He left the Bulls game with a strained hamstring. ... Collins has been pleased with his team's effort in his first year as coach. ''I think I can count on one hand the clunkers we've had this year.'' ... The Sixers and Hawks split the season series 2-2. ... The 76ers made 10 of 18 3-pointers. ... Meeks scored all 15 points on 3s.