There was a recent day when, as reporters were concluding postpractice interviews with a couple of veteran 76ers, coach Maurice Cheeks - at one of the side baskets - was motioning, good-naturedly pleading for some attention to rookie Bobby Jones and second-year guard Louis Williams.

"Let us know when they're going to get some meaningful time," was the general response.

Now would be a good time.

Williams produced six assists against a single turnover in 18 minutes, 24 seconds of Wednesday night's 92-90 victory in New York, perhaps his most impressive performance since arriving last season as a second-round draft choice directly out of an Atlanta-area high school. Jones, a second-round pick acquired from Minnesota this year after a solid 4-year career at the University of Washington, went 9:17, injecting the defensive energy that is his strong suit.

Just like that, a season full of virtually daily sessions with assistant coach John Loyer has begun to bear some fruit. Those workouts almost always include Williams, Jones, first-rounder Rodney Carney, sometimes veteran guard Kevin Ollie and more recently late-addition rookie Louis Amundson and comebacking big man Shavlik Randolph. The drills can be long and tedious, but Loyer's vigilant approach seems to be working.

"Rodney being a first-round pick [acquired from Chicago], playing 4 years in a pretty good [Memphis] program, he's a little bit above," Cheeks said. "He's had time to make mistakes, play through his mistakes. A first-round pick, you're going to be on him a little more. Having been a point guard, I'm going to be on Louis a little bit more, because I expect a little bit more . . . Bobby's not as overly talented as the other guys, but you'll see how he plays and you'll be pleasantly surprised."

The Sixers have financial investments in all three. While Carney and Jones have guarantees beyond this season, Williams does not; the team must decide whether to pick up a third-year option.

"From the beginning, everybody said I was a work in progress, that I was developing," Williams said. "It's all about progressing. I'm just happy things are going all right for me. They could be a lot better; obviously, there could be a lot more. [My] production could be a lot better."

But he described his progress as "solid, better than last year," saying: "That's what this whole thing is about, just being better than you were the day before. That's all I try to do, just come out and be better every day."

Cheeks has decided to expose Williams, who has seen spot duty in the rotation for several weeks, and Jones to situations in the heart of games rather than merely at the end. In the remaining eight games, he wants to see what the kids have learned and where they need more work.

Part of Wednesday night's test for Williams was attempting to defend Knicks guard Stephon Marbury for stretches of the second half as he put up 28 of his 30 points.

"There's only so much I can learn at the end of basketball games when we're up 20 or we're down 20," Williams said. "At that point of the game, guys are just trying to get shots. For me to come in and have to guard [Marbury] when he was dead-on hot, it [was] big for me."

Jones is more than capable defensively, but raw offensively. Happily, he has been patient and observant, gleaning as much as he can in only 36 appearances, many of them little more than cameos.

"I came to the realization that I was going to have time to work on my game and be patient," he said. "I could do it in a good way or in a bad way. I've been just positive the whole season. I've been working on my game, shooting, working out with my coaches, talking to them about the game of basketball . . . just trying to make the best of my situation.

"Now, I've got to take advantage of this opportunity I've been waiting for the whole year and just play it like it's my last season in the NBA, because you never know. I've been taking everything positive, in stride; it's going to be the best of times and the worst of times. You've just got to learn from your mistakes and move on. I made it to the NBA; this has been my lifelong dream. I'm not going to waste this because I didn't play my rookie year."

Six shots

Louis Williams will host an autograph session after tonight's game against Toronto for ticketed fans bringing a new children's baseball cap. The caps will be donated to local pediatric oncology units . . . Kyle Korver, who uncharacteristically missed two free throws with 2.3 seconds left Wednesday night, came in on a designated off-day for veterans and dropped in 93 of 100. *