SACRAMENTO - Maurice Cheeks, the 76ers' coach, tells his players all the time about taking opportunities when they present themselves.
Not just individually, but collectively, too.
Write last night's 92-80 victory over the Sacramento Kings down, then, as one the 76ers wrapped their arms around.
They did it with a 19-4 surge in the fourth quarter that included seven points from Andre Iguodala, giving them an 88-73 advantage with 3 minutes, 12 seconds remaining.
The Sixers began their six-game Western swing by winning for the eighth time in 11 games overall and for the fourth time in their last five on the road.
"It's always huge to get the first one," Cheeks said. "You can't win 'em all till you get the first one."
The Sixers, now 13-16, got 19 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks from Samuel Dalembert, 18 points from Andre Miller and 16 from Iguodala.
"Merry Christmas," Dalembert chirped as he headed to the locker room.
The Sixers' reserves outscored the Kings' subs, 31-15, with Kyle Korver contributing 10 points and Jason Smith nine. The Sixers' reserves also outrebounded the Kings' subs, 13-7, with Thaddeus Young taking five.
"We didn't get off the greatest start, but we played hard and with a purpose," Korver said. "Jason and Thaddeus hit some big shots. Those guys are really coming along."
The Sixers knocked down 11 of 18 shots in the final period and built an 11-5 advantage off the glass.
"It was an up-and-down game," Cheeks said. "We built a lead [11 points in the first half], they got it back. We had a drought in the third quarter where we couldn't score [five points in their last 11 possessions], but we went to a zone and that really helped us out. They stayed big and we stayed small."
Ex-Sixer John Salmons led the Kings with 22 points, while Beno Udrih added 19 points and six assists. The Kings played without star forward/guard Ron Artest, who was a late scratch with a chipped bone in his right elbow. Ex-Sixer Kenny Thomas couldn't take advantage of the opportunity. Thomas, who has barely played in recent games, was scoreless and without a rebound in 8:49.
"They scored 27 points off our  turnovers," Kings coach Reggie Theus said. "Regardless of how undermanned you are and things of that nature, you've got to take care of the basketball. That's ridiculous . . .
"When you turn the ball over at an alarming rate like that, to me, it's a lack of concentration. It's lack of focus and valuing the basketball. It's not acceptable, and there's not a reason for it, especially against a team that's not pressuring you like that."
Even with the win to start the road swing, this is not a trip that will define the Sixers. We already know who they are.
We know all the reasons they were almost universally picked to finish last in the NBA's Eastern Conference, including the ambitious plan to restock this summer. We know they have shown impressive resilience, shaking off bad losses and continuing to play hard and remain competitive.
We know that, as they left Philadelphia Thursday morning, embarking on the six-game Western swing, they had a fistful of reasons to feel good.
We know Iguodala came in last night averaging 21 points in the previous seven games and Miller had shot 56.6 percent and averaged 20.3 points in the previous six, playing his best ball in what is becoming an impressive season.
And despite a glitch Wednesday night in the 96-85 win over the Miami Heat, in which he had only nine points, two rebounds and four fouls, Dalembert has swept at least 11 rebounds in six of eight.
"For every team, the West Coast trip can make or break you, so we definitely want to play good ball out here," Iguodala said.
Sixers ownership and management has asked to see progress, and the players recently have taken some incremental steps. When Heat star Dwyane Wade said Wednesday, "It's tough to lose, period, but it's even tougher to be the worst team in the Eastern Conference," he was talking about his team, not the Sixers.
"We're just playing uptempo, trying to correct some defensive mistakes," Cheeks said. "I don't know the numbers and all that. We're just trying to play good basketball."
The Sixers' motivation remained as it has been all season: to show that they're better than people think, that they have the mental toughness and focus to deal with whatever comes at them. Last night, they had to be thinking about Dec. 14, when they lost, 109-99, to the Kings at the Wachovia Center, playing just flat enough to allow the visitors to gain their first road victory of the season.
Willie Green, who started the first 26 games, missed his third straight game with a groin strain. Lou Williams (sore right big toe) and Kevin Ollie (flu) did not practice Thursday. Ollie did not play, but Williams scored six points in 23 minutes off the bench.
"When the schedule comes out, we all know about this trip," Korver said. "It's how it is every year. Once you get to it, you take one game at a time."
The Kings, as it turns out, are something of a mirror image, holding an 11-17 record, trying to regather their resources after shooting a weak 38.2 percent and scoring a season low in Wednesday night's 89-69 loss to Boston.
"We can play so much better than what we played [against the Celtics], and that bothers me," Theus said. *