PHILADELPHIA -- Jrue Holiday returned from a sprained foot, and the 76ers returned to form.
No doubt, the steady point guard makes the Sixers go.
All they need now is a healthy Andrew Bynum -- and the injured center vows he's on the way back.
Holiday had 11 points and seven assists after sitting out four games with a sprained left foot. With Holiday back running the offense, the Sixers led by as many as 22 points and snapped a season-worst five-game losing streak.
"I think you can see the difference that Jrue makes in our team," coach Doug Collins said. "He just gives us a settling presence. Offensively, things are smoother."
Jason Richardson scored 17 points and the Sixers held the Hawks to 39 percent shooting. That was a 6 percent dip off Atlanta's average.
"We can score when we need to," Holiday said. "But it's just locking up our defense. We tried to take guys out of the game and we succeeded."
The Sixers learned before the game that Bynum, their 7-foot center, had been cleared to start a six-step rehabilitation process. There is still no timetable for when he can return to play from bone bruises in his knees. Bynum said he was confident he would play this season.
Expected to contend in the East with Bynum, the Sixers are under .500 (13-14) and clearly need their rested and recovered big man to make a run in the playoffs.
Williams averaged 11.3 points during seven years with the Sixers and led the team in scoring last season with 14.9 points a game.
His signature moment came in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series in 2011 against Miami when he helped the Sixers avert a sweep with a go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the arc over a lunging Dwyane Wade with 8.1 seconds left that lifted Philadelphia to an 86-82 win.
The Sixers were cruising until the third quarter when Williams showed that quick scoring punch off the bench that made him so valuable for them. He hit two straight 3-pointers, then sank two free throws to pull the Hawks within eight after they were down by 16.
With no other scoring options for the Hawks on this night, Atlanta's run didn't last long. The Sixers stormed back in the fourth, and consecutive 3-pointers by Spencer Hawes and Richardson pushed the lead back to 20. Hawes had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Williams stuck around after the game and posed near the stands for pictures with friends and family. He made his NBA name in Philadelphia, but the former Georgia high school star was happy at home.
"If I wasn't going to be here, I wanted to be there," Williams said. "I landed on my feet."
Williams stuck it to his former team on a sweet steal-turned-fast-break-layup in the first half. He was fouled on the play and yelled "Game Time!" to fans in the front row. He converted the three-point play.
But outside of his short burst in the third, Williams was kept in check. He playfully jawed with Turner most of the game -- though the familiar "Looouuu!" call at the Wells Fargo Center lost the L and sounded more like boos.
"We miss Lou, dearly," Collins said.
The 76ers also miss Bynum, though the All-Star has yet to even practice with the Sixers. Bynum said his right knee feels fine and there's still some pain in his left knee. An exam on Thursday showed Bynum's weakened cartilage hasn't gotten worse and the potential of surgery is off the table.
Bynum vowed to return, he just didn't know when.
"I really don't know. It's just that I know I will be back," he said. "It's not a career-ending situation."
The Sixers shot 51 percent from the floor, including a solid 42 percent (8 of 19) from the 3-point line, to make up for a 3-of-7 effort from the free throw line.
"I felt like with Jrue back, we're a different team," Turner said.
The Sixers sent rookie F Arnett Moultrie to their NBA Development League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Moultrie, a first-round pick by Miami sent to the Sixers in a draft-night trade, played in 11 games and averaged 1.3 points. Collins said Moultrie has to get in shape. ... The Sixers fell a point shy of sending their fans home with free fast food. Fans booed the Sixers as they refused to shoot on their final possession. Collins then decided to buy the fans burgers. ... The Sixers tied a season high with 31 assists. ... The Hawks have lost six straight to the 76ers.
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