By Matt Holmes

PHILADELPHIA — Even with an off day offensively, Dwight Howard’s presence in the middle paid huge dividends for the Atlanta Hawks.

That and a much-improved bench.

Paul Millsap scored 17 points, Kyle Korver added 15 and the Hawks had little trouble dismantling the Philadelphia 76ers, 104-72, in a rare Saturday afternoon game at the Wells Fargo Center.

Mike Muscala contributed 14 points, while Dennis Schroder scored 11 points and dished out 11 assists. Reserve Thabo Sefolosha also had 11 points as the Hawks improved to 2-0.

The Hawks received very little from Howard — two points and seven rebounds on 1-of-4 shooting — but they didn’t need much in this game. Kris Humphries came off the bench to grab 10 rebounds.

“The great thing about adding Dwight to our group and something that Dwight is embracing and cherishing is that we play as a team,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

“Everybody steps up, everybody contributes. Dwight is going to have great, big nights. A day like today was maybe not his day.”

Atlanta led by double figures for much of the game and dominated the early part of the fourth quarter. Sefolosha scored three straight baskets and added two free throws midway through the fourth, pushing the lead to 94-68.

Game over.

“It says a lot,” Millsap of the team’s depth. “Our bench is great. Our bench did a great job of coming in and sparking a nice, little run for us. This game, last game, they did a great job of doing that.”

Prized rookie Joel Embiid and Sergio Rodriguez each scored 14 points for the Sixers, who fell to 0-2. Richaun Holmes chipped in with 10 points.

Last season, the Sixers dropped their first 18 games and 30 of their first 31 en route to a 10-72 debacle.

“I give credit to their defense,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of the Hawks. “They were the second-best defensive team in the league last season. I also think some of it is on us, cutting harder, screening better and freeing each other up better.

“Our pace as far as getting cheap baskets is not even close to where it’s been. We have seven fast break points. We had nine the first game. We’re trying to get that balance of pace and post.”

The Hawks quickly pushed their 14-point halftime lead to 18 on consecutive baskets by Millsap, a short jumper and a dunk, to open the third quarter.

Howard’s only basket came with 10:09 remaining in the third on an alley-oop dunk for a 59-41 lead.

“Everybody is defending,” Budenholzer said. “Offensively, different guys are stepping up and playing unselfishly. Our bench and our depth is something that helps us. It was good to see our guys have that focus.”

The Sixers got to within 66-56 when Jerami Grant dribbled into the lane and threw down a vicious one-hand dunk.

But Atlanta extended its advantage to 74-58 by the end of the third.

The Sixers came out red hot, surging to an 8-0 lead. Embiid hit a 3-pointer and added a layup in the first 46 seconds of the game, while the Hawks missed their first six shots.

“Whatever the coaches want me to do defensively, offensively, I’ll work to do it,” Embiid said. “I thought I did pretty good.”

Embiid continued his torrid play with a blocked shot against Howard with 7:39 remaining before halftime. After the block, the fans chanted “Trust The Process!” and roared in appreciation.

Philadelphia struggled from the field (15 for 43), as Robert Covington and Gerald Henderson combined to miss all eight shots in the first half.

Korver knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:57 left, pushing the Hawks’ lead to 44-32.

Korver led all scorers at halftime with 15 points. Despite a 53-39 lead by the Hawks, Howard was held scoreless (0 for 3), although he swept six rebounds.

Atlanta led by as many as 16 points and took advantage of Embiid’s three fouls and 6:38 of playing time. The rookie center is expected to play no more than 20 minutes per game while finally recovering from two foot surgeries and two missed seasons.

NOTES: C Dwight Howard, who notched a double-double in his Hawks debut Thursday against Washington (11 points, 19 rebounds), is the NBA’s active leader in double-doubles with 614. … Sixers C Joel Embiid had 20 points against Oklahoma City on Wednesday and remains the only rookie in the league to reach at least 20 points in a game thus far this season. … The Sixers went with the same starting lineup as opening night, with Sergio Rodriguez and Gerald Henderson at guard, Dario Saric and Robert Covington at forward along with Embiid at center. … Hawks F Mike Scott sat out a second straight game because of a sore left knee. Scott received limited action during training camp and the injury has continued to linger.


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