A Little Love For Sam

This is for all of you emailers and commenters (you know who you are) who have gone to great lengths this season to bust on Samuel Dalembert.

And, OK, there have been enough games when he has been a total puzzle, not just to you and me, but to the 76ers. His offensive game has all but disappeared for long stretches. He and Elton Brand seemed to struggle to find ways to complement each other. But he has also had 12 games of at least 10 rebounds. And he has also been their leading shot-blocker.

And lately . . .

He deserves some props.

Over the last four games, he has blocked 14 shots, taken 27 rebounds and scored 20 points. His early one-on-one defense against Greg Oden last night was a big factor in the 100-79 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. By all accounts, Oden did a nice job establishing himself early in the post Monday night, helping the Blazers win in Chicago.

Dalembert, who has started every game for two seasons-plus, finally figured out that if he was going to play fewer minutes he had to find a way to make a quick contribution.And as rookie Marreese Speights began to come on, and as the veteran Theo Ratliff emerged as a situational defender, Dalembert's minutes were definitely going to go down. And they could go down again as Brand returns from the inactive list, probably playing some center when they go ''small.''

''I just realized what was going on,'' Dalembert said. ''My time got limited. I just try to start the game, find a way that I can contribute and do the things I usually do in a longer period of time. (Fewer minutes can) make it very difficult to quickly (have) an impact on the game. I didn't want to point fingers or say anything, I just (felt) if I'm going to play 18 minutes, if I'm going to play 20 minutes, this is what I'm going to have to do, try to make an impact very quickly, before I get back on the bench.''

His 30 minutes against the Blazers were the most since the 32 he played in the Dec. 23 blowout loss in Boston. But he was a real factor in this one, guarding the paint, blocking three shots and taking 9 rebounds. He had four blocks each against Atlanta and Charlotte, and three against Milwaukee.

His preference is to defend one-on-one, rather than depending on a teammate coming to double.

''When I've got a guy who's going to be touching the ball a lot on the post, I want to make my job a little easier,'' he said. ''I don't want to go out there and let the guy get too comfortable, or before you know it we'd be (in) for a long night . . . Since we struggle as a team to really keep guys in front of us, the last thing I want is for a full (defensive) rotation, somebody coming to double-team and help me out, and I will start running all over the place.''

Neither Oden mor LaMarcus Aldridge nor Joel Pryzbilla did much offensive damage for the Blazers. Tomorrow night, though, could be very, very different with Tim Duncan posting up for the Spurs.

At the same time, no one is suggesting that Dalembert has been terrific or dominating. But let's be fair. He's been better than he has been getting for.