Coaching professional athletes takes more than the requisite X's and O's. Maintaining player relationships and keeping open lines of communication are underrated but necessary aspects of the job.

Nobody knows that more than 76ers coach Maurice Cheeks. As a pro coach, it's never easy keeping everybody happy. In fact, it's virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, communicating with a player, whether he likes or dislikes the message, is a big part of coaching in the NBA.

And with that as a backdrop, Cheeks sought out Sixers forward Rodney Carney, the team's first-round draft pick in 2006, who has played sporadically this season.

Coach and player had a long talk last week.

"It was great," Cheeks said before Saturday night's 99-97 win at Memphis. "I wasn't as communicative as I thought, so I decided to sit down and explain some things. Maybe I didn't understand or he didn't understand, but I wanted to make sure we were on the same page."

Cheeks didn't mince words, and Carney appreciated the candor. The content hit the second-year player like a ton of bricks, and not the ones he had been shooting.

"He said I am not the player that I was in training camp," Carney explained. "He said I was lacking intensity, so I'm trying to get it back to get back to the rotation."

Carney said Cheeks' words were a big surprise.

"I thought I maintained my intensity, but in the coaches' eyes I didn't, and I have to get that edge back," Carney said.

Carney was feeling good about himself during the preseason as he battled Willie Green for the starting shooting-guard spot. Cheeks didn't announce that Green would be the starter until the day of the season opener, at Toronto.

"I felt my [preseason] performance would earn me either a starting spot or heavy minutes in the rotation," Carney said. "It didn't go that way."

Carney has played the last two games after sitting out four straight, one with the flu and the others because of the coach's decision.

His recent playing time has been aided by injuries. Lou Williams didn't play in Friday's 106-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. That opened up minutes in the backcourt. Carney played well, scoring eight points in 16 minutes and performing admirably on defense, especially against Kobe Bryant.

Green missed Saturday's victory with a strained left groin. Carney got the start and played just under 19 minutes, scoring two points on 1-for-8 shooting. He did have five rebounds and three steals.

In 18 games, Carney is averaging 4.5 points and is shooting 34.1 percent from the field and 16 percent from beyond the arc.

Green didn't practice yesterday and has been listed as day-to-day. His injury would seem to give Carney a chance to earn his way back into the rotation.

"It's a chance for anybody, not just Rodney, for anybody to get on the floor," Cheeks said after yesterday's practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Cheeks wouldn't say whether Carney would start in tomorrow's game against the Miami Heat at the Wachovia Center.

Notes.

Williams and forward Reggie Evans didn't practice yesterday. Williams still has a sore right big toe. He has been sidelined for two games since suffering a non-displaced fracture on Dec. 8, and has missed several practices. "During the basketball games, I don't feel it," Williams said. "The problem is after games, when it swells up and it's painful to walk." Evans strained his right shoulder on Nov. 28, against Utah. He has missed several practices but has played in every game. . . . Miami has to play in Cleveland today before taking on the Sixers. A Sixers team official said that as of early yesterday afternoon, 15,500 tickets had been sold for the Heat game.

Center Samuel Dalembert has grabbed 14 or more rebounds in four consecutive games, for a total of 61. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last Sixer to grab 14 or more rebounds in five consecutive games was Charles Barkley, from Nov. 2 through Nov. 11, 1991.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com. Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/deepsixer.