Nocioni getting better, Hawes now hurting

After winning just 27 games last season, you knew there would be struggles early on this season for the 76ers. You just had to hope they would have all their players available early to try to right things.

Forward Andres Nocioni, whom new coach Doug Collins has said is one of his best players and who would be playing 20-plus minutes a game, has been sidelined since the beginning of training camp with a sprained left ankle. Darius Songaila, a forward acquired a couple of weeks ago in a trade involving Jason Smith and Willie Green, has also been sidelined with a bad back.

Nocioni competed in a full workout for the first time yesterday, but starting center Spencer Hawes is now sidelined with a strained lower back and won't be dressed Saturday when the team plays its third preseason game against the New Jersey Nets in Newark.

The reason this is so concerning is because Collins is still trying to figure out who plays best with whom and what his substituion rotaion will be. Also, the Sixers have a tough early schedule with Miami, Atlanta and a three-game swing in the Southwest among the first 10 games.

Though there has only been two preseason games played, it seems apparent that the interior play, both offensively and defensively, needs improvement.

Collins has said that it is going to take time for him to evaluate his team and (sorry Andy Reid) get the players in the best position to play well. That very well could be, but the longer Collins doesn't have all his players, the longer it will take to figure things out. And with a tough early schedule, that's not good.