There certainly was a lot of enthusiasm yesterday during the 76ers' practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. The reason? Time off, coach Eddie Jordan thinks.
"It was one of the first days in a few days that we could scrimmage," said Jordan, whose team was preparing for tonight's home game against Kevin Durant and the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. "With 2 days off and not playing again until [today], they wanted it. It was good, well-spirited and they got things done, so it was fun."
The Sixers lost the only other meeting between the teams, 117-106, in early December. That was the day the Sixers announced they had re-signed Allen Iverson. In that game, Durant scored 33. Durant is second in the league in scoring at 29.6 points a game.
With two straight wins over playoff-bound teams - Milwaukee and Atlanta - the Sixers are playing some of their best ball of the season.
"We come to work every day," Jordan said. "I think guys feel good and are working hard. Obviously, nobody enjoys losing, and there's no fun in losing. We come in every day as a new day and we come with a fresh attitude every day. I feel good every day coming in to work.
"Obviously [in the wins], we've been making shots, but I do think we've been real solid in key areas. Whether it's Andre [Iguodala] or Jrue [Holiday] locked up, or Samuel [Dalembert] locked up, it's usually those three guys. They've been very good with their assignments, and that's been very critical for us."
For the second time in 3 weeks, Sam Dalembert was benched at the start of the game for disciplinary reasons. Earlier this month, the center was relegated to the bench to start the game for the first time in 319 games because he was late to the team's morning meeting. The reason then was that he overslept.
Friday, Dalembert was late getting to the locker room before the game, prompting Jordan to start Marreese Speights in his place. Both Jordan and Dalembert said Friday that it was not a big deal and that the punishment covered the infraction. Yesterday, Dalembert explained.
"It was a crazy day," he said. "I was sitting in my car and saying 'Oh, man, I'm in trouble.' I was stuck in traffic. I'm not going to blame him [Jordan]. We won the game."
Dalembert came off the bench and collected 14 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
When asked how frustrating his first year as Sixers coach has been, Jordan said: "It's a great job. I'm never frustrated. Every day is a challenge. It's a unique situation to be a head coach in the NBA. You have 12 to 15 guys who are competing, that emotional roller coaster, the physical roller coaster. You have to be able to manage a team, make them feel good, and you have to challenge them.
"Coaches find ways to get through an 82-game schedule and still have the team compete, no matter what their record is.
"It's hard every day for everybody. It's hard for [Lakers coach] Phil Jackson. It's hard to get 12 guys to play at a high level. But that's what we live for."
Forward Andre Iguodala, coming off a 25-point, 10-rebound, nine-assist game in the win Friday against Atlanta, sat out yesterday's practice. Iguodala is suffering from plantar fasciitis in his right foot . . . Guard Lou Williams, who has missed four of the last seven games, including the last three, with lower back pain, was a full practice participant. Though the official word from the Sixers is that he's a game-time decision, coach Eddie Jordan proclaimed Williams "ready to go. He did some good things today" . . . Thad Young did some work yesterday, with his fractured right thumb still bandaged. The hope from Young is that he might return late this week or early next . . . Maurice Cheeks, fired by the Sixers early last season, will return to the Wachovia Center tonight for the first time since being released. Cheeks is a Thunder assistant. *
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