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South grad to be in Sixers' starting lineup tonight vs. Hawks

ATLANTA -- For the first time in his homecoming trips back to Atlanta, Lou Williams is expected to be introduced as a starter when the Philadelphia 76ers play the Hawks at Philips Arena tonight.

Another former Gwinnett high school sensation may not play at all, however.

Although Williams and Jodie Meeks are now teammates, their NBA careers are far from being headed in the same direction at the moment.

Williams, in his fifth season, is likely entrenched back in the Philadelphia starting lineup with Allen Iverson's absence from the team the rest of the season.

Meeks, though, is anchored to the end of the 76ers bench, the rookie's playing time almost nil since a trade from Milwaukee last month.

Williams went directly to the NBA after a prolific career at South Gwinnett High School and mostly sat for two seasons before becoming a key scorer off the bench for Philadelphia the past two years.

Now Meeks, a star at Norcross, is having to bide his time after leaving Kentucky a year early following a season in which averaged 23.7 points and had a school-record 54-point game.

Some thought Meeks had made a bad decision to skip his senior year, just like many thought Williams had been foolish to bypass college. The jump to the NBA isn't an easy one, wherever it's from.

Williams has still had his ups and downs this season, although he's posting career highs in almost all statistical categories.

The 6-foot-1 guard suffered a broken jaw against Washington on Nov. 24 and it was feared at first that he might miss eight weeks. That's why the 76ers went back in time and signed Iverson.

But Williams was able to return in December after missing just 12 games, creating a logjam in the Philadelphia backcourt. Iverson remained the starter, forcing Williams to come off the bench again, like he had while averaging 11.5 and 12.8 points per game the previous two seasons.

That is the way it stood until Iverson left the team for personal reasons and the 23-year-old Williams got to return to the starting lineup.

"I want Lou to be Lou," first-year Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan told reporters.

Williams, playing both point and shooting guard, is second on the team with a scoring average of 14.7 and has also dished out 4.1 assists per game while starting 31 times in 47 games for the 76ers, who fell to 22-37 with Monday's home loss to Orlando.

Williams has scored more than 20 points three times in Philadelphia's past eight games.

"It's the minutes," Williams told reporters. "In order to be at a high production rate, you have to be in there."

The big improvement this season has come in Williams' shooting percentages. He is hitting 46.8 percent from the floor, including 35.0 percent on 3-pointers, and 82.7 percent from the foul line.

Meeks was that kind of shooter at Kentucky, but the 6-foot-4 guard has struggled to find the range in the NBA while getting limited opportunities as a rookie.

Meeks had a 21-point game for Milwaukee in January, showing what he is capable of when given an opportunity. But his playing time with the Bucks was inconsistent and it has gone to almost nothing since being traded to the 76ers.

Even with the announcement that Iverson won't be back this season, Philadelphia has too many guards and not enough playing time to spread around.

Meeks has played just nine minutes since being traded and has just one point with the 76ers.

The 22-year-old Meeks had been hopeful when he was first traded. "I think I fit in well," he told reporters.

But Jordan offered no assurances from the start. "I don't think he'll be in the rotation," the coach said.