Just before the start of the 76ers' game against the Pistons last Tuesday, rookie Rodney Carney realized how long the NBA season really is.
It was then that the Sixers were about to play their 34th game, one more in a span of 3 months than Carney's entire regular season as a senior at Memphis. Carney, the 16th overall pick in the 2006 draft, said the length of the NBA season finally is starting to catch up to him.
"When I finally sat down and thought about it and figured we still had another 40-plus games left, that's when it really hit me,'' Carney said yesterday after practice at Philadelphia Osteopathic College of Medicine.
Carney was acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night deal with the Bulls that sent the 13th overall pick, Thabo Sefolosha, to Chicago for Carney, a 2007 second- round draft pick and cash
"I just thought, 'Man, this is going to be a long season. A long, long ride.' ''
That long ride continues tonight when Carney returns to Memphis for the first time as a pro, as the 10-28 Sixers visit the only team with a worse record, the 9-30 Grizzlies.
Both of these teams are going to be in the running to win the NBA draft lottery, which this year would mean a shot at 7-foot Greg Oden, if the freshman center leaves Ohio State.
Not only have the Sixers lost nine of their last 12 games, but they are tied for last in the league in defensive rebounding (27.3 per game) and 28th in rebounding overall (38.3 per game).
Although tonight seems like a great opportunity for the Sixers to walk away with a road victory, coach Maurice Cheeks said it was important for his team to play well and then build upon that.
"Memphis is who they are and we are who we are,'' he said. "We're trying not to look at this as just an opportunity to get a win against Memphis. We're trying to get ourselves better so we can get a win against the next team and the next team after that.''
Yesterday, Cheeks had the team spend an hour-and-a-half watching film of Monday's 104-86 loss to Toronto, and critiqued his players on their recent poor defensive play. The Raptors generated two 14-0 runs and shot 54 percent.
Cheeks, who said the Sixers gave up too many easy baskets to the Raptors, added that the main focus of the extensive film session was for the players to correct themselves and try to minimize the simple mistakes and lapses they have on the court.
"I can't go over everything that happens on the court but there are certain things that we can go over and talk about because those things are going to present themselves again,'' Cheeks said.
Carney, who was born in Memphis and attended high school in Indianapolis before heading back to Memphis for college, said watching film is just one way he goes about developing his basketball IQ as a rookie.
Carney has seen his role fluctuate from game to game. He has started 15 games, averaging 8.0 points. In the games where he has come off the bench he has only produced 3.3 points per game in an average of 9 minutes.
"Rodney's a rookie and I say this all the time, I think they go up and they go down because they're not used to playing as many games . . . ,'' Cheeks said. "But I think his progress so far this season has been fine.''
In Carney's final season at Memphis, he averaged 17.2 points, was Conference USA Player of the Year and led the Tigers to the Elite Eight. Carney said a lot of his former teammates as well as Memphis coach John Calipari will attend tonight's game.
As a 4-year starter at Memphis, Carney led the Tigers to a 100-35 record, so winning just 10 games in his first few months as a professional has to be a little disheartening, especially when your team will more games in a season than you lost in your entire collegiate career.
"Losing never helps,'' Carney said. "But I'm still trying to learn and make it a good experience even though we're losing.'' *