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News » TOM ENLUND Sixers easing Brand back in lineup

TOM ENLUND Sixers easing Brand back in lineup

TOM ENLUND  Sixers easing Brand back in lineup
The time has come for Elton Brand and the Philadelphia 76ers.

After watching Brand go through two full practices last week, the 76ers decided he was ready to return to action for the first time since dislocating his right shoulder against the Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 17.

But now comes the difficult part. Just how does a team that recently won seven straight games to rise into the thick of the playoff race in the East Conference work their prize free agent from last summer back into the mix?

Apparently very slowly and very carefully.

"A lot will depend on game situations," said coach Tony DiLeo. "Our goal is to win. We're not going to sacrifice a game for Elton's benefit. He's a competitor. He hasn't played for a long time. He's had to sit and watch, so he's really hungry to get out there. I think the way we're doing it is good."

Brand, who signed a $79.8 million free-agent contract, practiced with the second unit last week and initially will come off the bench for short stretches.

But at some point, Brand will return to the starting lineup and someone obviously will have to go to the bench. The most likely candidate is power forward Thaddeus Young, one of the catalysts of Philadelphia's running game that has been such a key to its recent success. Last week, Young called it a "privilege" to be playing in the league and said he would fill whatever role was necessary to help the team.

Questions remain, though, about whether the 76ers will have to put the brakes on their potent transition game to accommodate Brand.

"You try not to think about it," said Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala. "You've got to keep that positive thinking amongst everybody, just find a way to make it work. When you start doubting what's going to happen when a guy comes back, you kind of put poison in your brain. You start doubting everybody, yourself as well. We have to stay positive."

"It's big for this team," point guard Andre Miller said of Brand's return. "But we still want to continue what we've been doing."

The 76ers had considerable difficulty integrating Brand into the system at the start of the season, but the hope is that it will be easier this time since Brand's teammates already have played with him and because he has been able to observe what has been working for the team.

The 76ers were 11-14 when Brand went down. He averaged 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds before the injury.

"Without question, we are a better team with Elton on the court," said DiLeo. "That is not even for discussion. We're a better team."

The finest

No one is playing better at home than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who recognize the significance of their flawless home record.

"You always want to protect home court," said LeBron James. "We can't stand here and say it doesn't mean anything."

The Cavaliers' best home record came in 1991-'92 and in 1992-'93 - they went 35-6 both seasons. The league record of 40-1 was set by the Boston Celtics in 1985-'86.

"That (40-1) is almost impossible to even think of," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown. "Someone would be hard-pressed to do that."

He's very active

David Lee's hustling and affective style of play has put the Knicks in a bit of a dilemma since he will become a restricted free agent after the season.

New York had been thinking of trading him before the deadline, since last fall he sought a contract that would pay him around $10 million, which the team felt was a bit pricey. But the Knicks may have to reconsider, because Lee, at 6 feet 9 inches, has been playing center and posting double-doubles regularly, which some think should get him some all-star consideration.

"He's improved in a lot of facets," said coach Mike D'Antoni. "Obviously, he hustles and rebounds and does all the intangibles."

Chicken dinner

One of the big winners in the all-star balloting was New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul.

Paul landed a starting spot on the West beside Kobe Bryant after overcoming a 157,000-vote deficit in the final two weeks of balloting to overtake the struggling and often-injured Tracy McGrady. Paul received 1.1 million votes in that span.

"Thank you, New Orleans, I guess," Paul said. "Thank the world. It's an unbelievable feeling."

Still hobbling

Last week, Utah's Carlos Boozer spoke to reporters for the first time since undergoing knee surgery Jan. 9. The team said after the surgery that his situation would be re-evaluated in four weeks. Boozer is walking without a limp yet declined to be specific about a return date.

"Four, five, six weeks, whatever it ends up being," he said.

Bag of doughnuts?

Minnesota interim coach Kevin McHale admits he was reluctant to coach again, not because he didn't want to but because of the NBA lifestyle. More specifically, after a game flying to the next city and arriving a couple hours before most people have breakfast.

"I traveled when I played and by the end of my career I was tired of traveling," he said. "There was nothing about traveling I thought was cool or enjoyable."

Fun with numbers

Early in the season, it seemed possible that Oklahoma City could challenge the 76ers' record for worst record in a season (9-73 in 1972-'73). But now, with the Thunder winning some games, it could post one of the best second-half turnarounds for teams that finished the first half with fewer than 10 victories.

If the Thunder wins at least 14 games in the second half, it would become only the sixth team with single-digit victories in the first half to finish with 22 or more victories. The most recent was the 2007-'08 Timberwolves, who went 7-34 in the first half and 15-26 in the second.

Rose is the man

Chicago coach Vinny Del Negro used the team's visit to New York as an opportunity to declare the

rookie of the year race over, with the Bulls' Derrick Rose the winner.

"There's not even a conversation as far as I'm concerned," Del Negro said. "I know (Memphis' O.J.) Mayo is having a great year. I think (Miami's Michael) Beasley is incredibly talented and can score and is playing well. But no one is playing at the level Derrick's played at from the start to this point. It's not even close."

Getting defensive

After giving up 109 points in a loss to Philadelphia, the Spurs scored consecutive victories over Chicago, Charlotte and Indiana and held those teams to an average of 84.0 points and 39.4% shooting.

"Maybe getting our butts kicked in Philly made them realize that we did suck (previously) on defense," said coach Gregg Popovich. "That's got to be our focus, because we're going nowhere without defense."

KG's house

Kevin Garnett took his turn guarding Shaquille O'Neal when the Celtics played the Suns last week and was feeling it afterward.

"It's just like holding up a wall," said Garnett. "Go home, knocking out the foundation in your house and just hold up the wall. And when it's about to fall on you, that's what it's like holding up Shaq."

Fast breaks

* The Suns won 23 of their first 40 games after having 28, 32, 26 and 31 victories at that point in previous seasons.

* Lakers coach Phil Jackson says "the way he's going" LeBron James could end up being ranked among the top five to 10 players of all time.

* Houston guard Rafer Alston on the team's injuries: "You go upstairs (from the training room to practice) and there are only four guys there."

* Brandon Roy's nine-point game against Milwaukee was only the third time this season he has failed to score in double digits.

* Eight players on the current Charlotte roster were obtained after coach Larry Brown took over late last April.


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