In his one year as head coach of the 76ers, Jim O'Brien won quite a few games but not nearly as many friends.

His team went 43-39 in 2004-05, a 10-game improvement from the previous season. Still, he was fired after the Sixers lost to the Detroit Pistons, four games to one, in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Since his firing, the Sixers haven't been to the playoffs.

Now, O'Brien is back. He is in his first season coaching the 13-12 Indiana Pacers, who have been one of this season's surprises.

Tonight at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Sixers (10-14) will meet the Pacers in their first game against their former coach.

Players' opinions of O'Brien's tenure differed, but it's safe to say that center Samuel Dalembert doesn't have warm feelings about his former coach. When O'Brien was let go, Dalembert wasn't shocked.

"It was kind of not surprising because there was so much going on which I didn't want to be involved in outside of basketball," Dalembert said yesterday after practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "For the organization, it was a smart decision."

One reason O'Brien lasted only one season was that he didn't get along with management, including Billy King, former president and general manager.

One could say Dalembert benefited from O'Brien's short stay. The center was signed to a six-year contract worth close to $64 million after O'Brien's one season. Dalembert had raised his stock by averaging 11.6 points and 12.8 rebounds in 38.4 minutes during the playoffs.

Still, he was miffed he didn't play more during the regular season, in which he averaged just 24.8 minutes.

"If you show confidence in me to put me in the playoffs, you have to show confidence during the season," Dalembert said.

Dalembert conceded the team had success on the court, but he felt it wasn't enough.

"In terms of winning, he came in and was winning, but a lot of guys didn't get along with him," Dalembert said.

In fairness, there are current Sixers, such as Kyle Korver, who feel exactly the opposite about O'Brien.

Under O'Brien, Korver played all 82 games, including 57 starts, and had a career-high 558 three-point attempts.

"He definitely played a system that I fit into well, and I enjoyed it," Korver said. "I thought he was a great coach, and still think he's a great coach."

The Pacers played a slow-paced half-court game under former coach Rick Carlisle and went 35-47 last season, the same record as the Sixers. O'Brien has brought his fast-paced style, which includes an emphasis on getting out in transition and attempting three-pointers.

Entering last night, Indiana was sixth in the NBA in scoring at 104.48 points per game, though the Pacers were 27th in scoring defense, allowing 104.52 points per game.

Indiana averages 22.4 three-pointers per game, fourth in the NBA. By comparison, the Sixers are averaging 13.3 treys.

O'Brien declined to be interviewed for this story, but Larry Bird, the Pacers' president of basketball operations, has become a strong supporter.

"I couldn't be more happy with the job Jim has done," Bird said in a phone interview. "The players like his system and have really bought into it."

Bird said the Pacers needed a drastic change, which is why O'Brien appealed to him.

"We wanted to see the team go up and down the court more, and so did our fans," Bird said. "Jim has also been great in the community, although during the season he is all about basketball, and that is how I am."

Notes. Sixers forward Reggie Evans missed his second straight practice with a strained right shoulder but was expected to play tonight. . . . Guard Lou Williams, who sat out Monday's practice because of soreness in his fractured right big toe, worked out yesterday. "He's still a little sore," coach Maurice Cheeks said of Williams, who is expected to play tonight. . . . Sixers rookie center Herbert Hill, who has yet to play since surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee Oct. 30, has picked up the pace at practice. "He practiced a little [yesterday], sat out some, and for the time he got out there he was fine," Cheeks said. . . . Mike Dunleavy, who scored a career-high 36 points Monday in a 119-92 win at New York, is averaging a team-high 17.4 points for the Pacers. . . . Indiana leads the NBA in rebounding at 45.2 per game.