The 76ers handed Andre Iguodala the microphone on Opening Night, and he welcomed the crowd by mentioning the parade he knew was coming from the Phillies and that, hopefully, the Sixers would soon be there with a parade of their own.
Might as well aim high.
"We're trying to win a championship . . . that's our goal," Iguodala was saying yesterday, undeterred by Wednesday's 95-84 loss to Toronto.
"Last year, we lost our first game and we said we were building. Now, we've got to get it rolling. Even though there are some new guys here, we've got to keep pushing, get that ball rolling faster, rather than waiting around until February to start playing well."
Having a low-post player in Elton Brand, a bunch of preseason games notwithstanding, is still very new to the Sixers. It's as new as Brand playing with a shot-blocking center in Samuel Dalembert. It's as new as the players wanting to run the way they did last season, at the same time knowing they suddenly have a release valve and perhaps depending on it more than they should.
In that regard, a game tonight against the suddenly speedier, faster-paced New York Knicks could be just what they need. With new coach Mike D'Antoni implementing the up-and-down system that made the Phoenix Suns so popular, the Sixers will be forced to depend far more on what they do best.
"I thought we played a little tentative, not our aggressive style, the way we had been playing," coach Maurice Cheeks said, referring back to the loss to the visiting Raptors. "I thought there were plays we could have gone and made, and we didn't make them as we normally do. Someone asked me if I was disappointed; I was disappointed in certain phases of the game."
Let us count the ways: The Sixers shot 34.5 percent from the floor, shot a few too many three-pointers, gave up 26 points on 18 turnovers, managed just three steals and gleaned only four points from 10 Raptors turnovers. And once Chris Bosh and Jermaine O'Neal figured out how to deal with Brand and Dalembert, the Raptors were able to build a lead to as many as 14 points.
"The first 6, 7 minutes of the game, [Dalembert] had Chris timed pretty good," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said in the Toronto Star. "[Dalembert] blocked a couple of his shots, made him take some tough shots, but I tell Chris every night, 'Make them block them all. You're good enough to where they can't block them all.' I think once Chris hit a couple of jump shots, it softened them up a little bit and he took the ball to the basket."
O'Neal was effective in the paint, sometimes preventing a Sixer from making what amounted to a third defensive rotation to the perimeter, which helped clear the way for the Raptors' spot-up shooters to drain 10 of 16 triples.
"I thought our movement wasn't as crisp as it had been the last few days [in practice]," Cheeks said. "I thought we stood [around] a little bit too much, more than we normally stand; that's what bogged our offense down. If you're not getting any stops, you're just putting a lot of pressure on the offense. If you're not getting movement, the defense can stand there and guard three people with two."
Which brings us back to Iguodala. "We need more energy," he said. "We were a little bit flat, a little nervous, seeing some new faces out there . . . We've got to try to adjust a little faster, try to start clicking sooner rather than later."
Parade to ticket office
Good luck getting to tonight's game through the remnants of the Phillies parade, but kids 12 and under can get a free ticket when accompanied by a paying adult. One child per adult.
Also, fans wearing Phillies T-shirts, sweat shirts and hats may purchase $10 tickets for tonight's game at the Wachovia Center box office, beginning at 10 a.m. Tickets can be purchased up until game time. *