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NBA: Howard: Wind beneath wings of the Hawks

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Dwight is going to have great, big nights, says Atlanta coach.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Atlanta Hawks’ off-season acquisition of big man Dwight Howard is looking like a good move for the team and the once-imposing NBA star who seemed to have lost his way.

After Howard pulled down 19 rebounds as part of a double-double in his debut with his hometown team on Thursday, his presence in the middle paid dividends for the Hawks on Saturday in a 104-72 victory over the 76ers in Philadelphia – despite his modest contribution of two points and seven 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.’’

But Paul Millsap scored 17 points, Kyle Korver added 15 and the Hawks cruised past the Sixers.

Mike Muscala contributed 14 points and German point guard Dennis Schroder – signed to a four-year, $62 million contract extension – scored 11 points and passed out 11 assists.

Switzerland’s Thabo Sefolosha came off the bench to score 11 points as the Hawks improved to 2-0.

Howard’s only basket came on an alley-oop dunk in the third quarter.

Howard’s move to Atlanta is part of the trend of NBA players plumping for their hometown team – think LeBron James in Cleveland and Dwyane Wade’s move to Chicago.

And it comes after a few seasons of bouncing around the league gaining a reputation for discontent.

Standout years with the Orlando Magic ended with the three-time Defensive Player of the Year demanding a trade, but a brief spell alongside Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers proved unprofitable and a move to Houston saw him struggle alongside James Harden – with the Rockets managing just 41 victories last season.

But Budenholzer believes the player who styles himself ‘‘Superman’’ is eager to do whatever it takes to again become a force in the league.

‘‘Dwight has established himself as an elite player,’’ Budenholzer said. ‘‘His work and his commitment to everything we’re doing, very pleased with it. It makes a difference.’’

Budenholzer said Howard still has things to learn about the Hawks’ offensive system.

‘‘I’m pleased with where he is, he’s going to get better…I think he’s very comfortable with it,’’ Budenholzer said.

In Philadelphia on Saturday, Howard played opposite the 76ers Joel Embiid, the 22-year-old big man who comes into the league in his injury-delayed debut season with big expectations – just as Howard once did.

‘‘I thought he had a great game. I think he’s a great young player,’’ said Howard, who went onto share some insights on building an NBA career.

‘‘One thing I just want to see from him is just put his head down and play,’’ Howard said. ‘‘Just go out there and do your job.’’

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