THERE IS a sense of anticipation around the 76ers. Not a hold-your-breath thing, but a feeling - a wish - for new president/general manager Ed Stefanski to do something, anything. If not yesterday, then at least tomorrow.
That, of course, is not the way it works. This process will be slower, albeit with a steady hand, with fresh eyes and with ties to nothing other than the job at hand.
The games, though, still must be played. As they say, for richer or for poorer, in front of sellout crowds or 6,000. (OK, last night, it was in front of an announced 11,975.) You celebrate when you can.
"We'll celebrate for about an hour," the Sixers' Reggie Evans said after he and Samuel Dalembert made major defensive contributions to a 101-90 victory over the New York Knicks. "Then we'll get ready for [tonight's rematch in New York]. I'm pretty sure they're going to be ready to roll."
The Sixers not only gave themselves a chance to win with a strong second half, they also gave themselves a chance to win successive games for the first time this season. It was only their fourth victory in their last 14, and their first since Stefanski succeeded the fired Billy King.
For a while, the atmosphere and quality was reminiscent of what you might expect to see in, say, Columbia, S.C., or Uncasville, Conn., in the preseason, with the early-arriving crowd in the Wachovia Center significantly less than what finally settled into the seats. But unlike a lot of recent nights, it got better instead of worse.
With Dalembert scoring 20 points and digging in defensively against Knicks center Eddy Curry, Evans doing the same against power forward Zach Randolph and Lou Williams scoring eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, the Sixers were able to raise their record to 6-13 and leave the Knicks with a 1-8 road record.
Granted, the Knicks were playing under the most difficult of circumstances, with point guard Stephon Marbury insisting on playing 5 days after the death of his father and 1 day after the funeral. Marbury had two points and two assists in 13:18 of the first half, then asked out, saying it was much too hard.
Before the game, Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said: "I don't know if I would be able to do it. To his credit, he's doing it. I don't know many people that can. I always said professional athletes are strong-minded. They go through a lot and still able to go on the floor and play."
Marbury tried, only to hit a physical and emotional wall.
"I need to give my body some rest," he said afterward. "I haven't slept in 5 days. It's the toughest thing I've ever done. This is something you can't prepare yourself for."
It isn't easy preparing to face Curry and Randolph, either, but Dalembert and Evans did some yeoman's work and also found opportunities to contribute offensively. Besides his 20 points, Dalembert finished with eight rebounds and four blocks, and Evans put up a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds.
"Curry has a wide body, man," Dalembert said of the Knicks center, generously listed at 285 pounds. "He knows how to use it. He tries to pin you down, but if you let him do that, he's just going to push you around with his body. Reggie and I basically mixed it up a little, not letting him be comfortable, have a comfortable zone."
Curry and Randolph combined for only 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Knicks stayed in it on the strength of some strong early work by David Lee (16 points, 11 rebounds) and a remarkable 17-point fourth quarter by Jamal Crawford (28 points, eight assists). Crawford, in fact, scored the first 16 of the vistors' 23 points in the final period.
"This was our worst game," Randolph said. "We were inconsistent. Having a good game the other night [a road victory over the New Jersey Nets] and coming back to play a game like this, this is something I am not used to . . . We didn't have any energy tonight. Guys were sluggish. I was sluggish. No one played good except David and Jamal."
On the other hand, the Sixers got an offensive burst from Williams and finished with five men in double figures. The one starter not in double figures was Andre Miller, who was more than effective in other facets, putting together nine points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
"Anytime you win, you feel like you played fairly well, and it's a good feeling," Kyle Korver said. "We could use a couple good feelings right about now."
Before Billy King's tenure suddenly ended Monday, he had been in touch with, among other teams, Miami and Detroit, about possible deals. "I'm going to pursue things with all 29 teams," Ed Stefanski said. "I've also gotten a lot of congratulatory calls, and then the next step is, they ask about [possibilities]. But that goes on all the time." That works for Comcast-Spectacor chief operating officer Peter Luukko, who said, "We're letting Eddie go for it. We're giving him free rein" . . . Forbes magazine listed the Sixers with a value of $380 million, No. 13 in the NBA. "The value," Luukko said, "is what someone will pay for it." *