Photo: Todd Kirkland Philadelphia 76ers point guard Lou Williams (23) in first half action of the Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks game at Philips Arena in Atlanta.
ATLANTA -- Jodie Meeks was reunited with fellow Gwinnett County high school legend Lou Williams when he was traded from Milwaukee to Philadelphia during his rookie NBA season.
The Sixers, trying to move past the Alan Iverson era, were hardly the most coveted destination at the time, though. And Meeks and Williams trying to break through in the NBA on the same team didn't seem ideal, either.
But a lot has changed in a few seasons. Philadelphia is one of the biggest surprises of the delayed NBA season, and Meeks and Williams have established their niche with the Atlantic Division's first-place team.
The Gwinnett connection combined for 24 points, five assists and five steals as Philadelphia improved to 17-7 with a 98-87 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night at Philips Arena.
Meeks is a permanent part of the Sixers' starting lineup as a deadly 3-point shooter, while Williams is Philadelphia 's leading scorer and a candidate to be the NBA's sixth man of the year.
Williams, who finished with 14 points, and Meeks were on the floor together much of the second quarter, when Philadelphia outscored the Hawks 37-20 to take a commanding 57-41 lead. Meeks had seven points in the quarter and Williams six.
"I'm happy for the guys who grew up here to come back and get a win," Sixers coach Doug Collins said.
"It's still special to come home and play in front of family and friends," Williams said. "There is a comfort level playing before people you know."
It hasn't been this much fun for Williams and Meeks since their Gwinnett days, when they played on the same AAU team for the Georgia Stars and were high school rivals. Williams, a year older, led South Gwinnett to the 2004 state title as a junior and Meeks did the same as a senior with Norcross in 2006.
"We're enjoying this season," said Meeks, who hit four 3-pointers in an earlier victory over the Hawks in Philadelphia. "Everyone wants to win."
The 76ers, who haven't had a winning record since 2004-05, wouldn't be doing it so often this year without their Gwinnett connection.
Both are instant offense, Meeks in a starting role with his outside shooting and Williams as a game-changer off the bench.
"Lou is a starter, not a backup player by any stretch of the imagination," Collins said. "But for us he serves a role that is so vital. As a sixth man, there aren't many who are better."
Williams, in his seventh season although just 25, leads the Sixers in scoring despite coming off the bench. Meeks, the starting shooting guard, is deadly from behind the 3-point arc when he gets it going and hit two 3s against the Hawks.
"Jodie can give us that 3-point shooting that just changes a game," Collins said. "He runs to the 3-point line on the break and when he hits a few, the fans get into the game and we get rolling."
Many thought that Williams and Meeks declared for the NBA draft a year early when both fell out of the first round. But the decision, right or wrong, is in the past now with the pair well into successful NBA careers.
Drafted in 2005 out of South Gwinnett as the Naismith High School player of the year, Williams struggled that first season as the NBA's youngest player and spent time in the NBA Development League. But he was averaging double figures with the Sixers well before he would have played four seasons at Georgia .
Williams boosted his scoring average from 11.5 in his third season to 12.8 and then 14.0. He slipped ever so slightly to 13.7 last season, but he is leading the Sixers at 15.2 points this season and also contributing 3.4 assists in 25 minutes per game.
With just 38 career starts, Williams has had plenty of time to adjust to coming off the bench and he is instant point production for the Sixers. He was 16th in the NBA in points per 48 minutes last season and his 10th so far this season at 28.8 points.
Meeks has started every game for the Sixers, but he is averaging only two more minutes than Williams. His 10.5 average is up from 9.2 last season and he has shot nearly 40 percent from behind the 3-point arc and 90 per cent from the foul line.
Meeks set the Kentucky scoring record with a 54-point game against Kentucky as a junior, but he got inconsistent playing time after being drafted by Milwaukee in 2008. The trade to Philadelphia proved beneficial and he averaged 10.5 in his second NBA season.
"It was definitely nice to be traded to a new team where I already knew someone," Meeks said of being reunited with Williams on the Sixers.
There is no question, though, that their days as high school rivals haven't been forgotten.
"Ask about who was the greatest high school player," Sixers teammate Evan Turner joked as Williams walked by within earshot.
"Everyone down here already knows," Williams said, shaking his head and breaking into a smile.
With the curtailed NBA schedule this season, Philadelphia makes just one regular-season trip to Atlanta . Williams and Meeks had a sizeable rooting section for the homecoming.
"It's always fun to come home," Meeks said. "But you learn that you can't get too caught up in it."