OAKLAND, Calif. - You can't necessarily see it in the crowds at the Wachovia Center, or maybe even in the TV ratings. It's not as if anyone in Philadelphia suddenly has real playoff fever.

On the other hand, a seven-game home winning streak, eight victories in the last 10 games and an enthusiastic announced crowd of 14,124 for Wednesday night's impressive 101-89 victory over Orlando was encouraging.

New president/general manager Eddie Stefanski has been speaking to fans and seasonticketholders in small breakfast and lunch groups. He has been making telephone calls, responding to e-mail, telling ticketholders about his plans and listening to their concerns. He's been on the job for slightly more than 2 months and says, "There's more of a buzz than when I first got here."

"But I think that's strictly because of the way the kids, the young players, have been performing, the way the team has played," he said before the team left on a three-game Western swing that starts tonight against the Golden State Warriors.

"I think we're playing good, fun basketball. I think the feeling among the fans who come to the arena, the ones who watch on TV, is that they're enjoying it."

Never mind how weak the East has been, or that just five teams in the conference have winning records, the Sixers can only deal with the environment in which they have been placed. They've been clinging to the No. 8 postseason berth and have stayed within striking distance of No. 6.

What about the yahoos screaming for them to lose, to get better positioning in the lottery?

"I get that on the talk shows," Stefanski said.

And?

"I understand where they're coming from," he said. "They're fans; they're trying to help us. But as an organization, you can't ever go that way. You can't teach guys to lose."

You can only hope the buzz gets louder.

Still, the Sixers face six of their next eight games on the road, and of their next four home games, three are against the Boston Celtics, the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets.

It's much too early, then, to hear a playoff drumbeat.

(Although, as reader Audrey Fitzgerald suggested in an e-mail, how might Allen Iverson feel if the Sixers reach the postseason and the Nuggets don't?)

The Sixers are currently No. 27 in attendance, but at least in some quarters hope continues to spring eternal. Witness this note from a fan: "If courtside seats were priced like real estate, I guess the time to buy would be now."

All you can really hope is, that's a buzz you're beginning to hear about the Sixers and not just a ringing in your ears.

Giricek gone?

With

Brent Barry

opting to re-sign with San Antonio rather than accepting an offer from Phoenix, the Suns apparently have set their sights on the Sixers'

Gordan Giricek

. Stefanski has agreed to waive the Croatian swing man, saving the Sixers about $300,000 in payroll. To be eligible to sign with the Suns, Giricek would have to be waived by midnight tomorrow; Stefanski was awaiting a call from

Mark Fleisher

, Giricek's agent.

Hanging in

It's almost sad to see

Theo Ratliff

, a Sixers All-Star in 2000-01, trying to hang in with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The power forward/center who developed as an outstanding weakside shot-blocker has fought his way through a series of back and knee surgeries.

"I'm still chasing the same thing everybody else is chasing, trying to get on a winning team, on a championship team, possibly having a chance to win," he said.

Still, it's not as sad as it might be, because Ratliff is being paid $11.6 million in the final year of his contract.

"I've got six kids," he said, smiling. "At some point, you've got to go and be that full-time dad."

A rivers runs through him

Boston coach

Doc Rivers

, talking about young Celtics point guard

Rajon Rondo

, says he once read a Harvard study that indicated a student listening to a teacher at least 75 percent of the time would be a very good student.

"Rajon," Rivers said, "is right at that limit."

Kidd stuff

Give San Antonio guard

Tony Parker

bonus points for saying what he thought about Western rival Dallas acquiring

Jason Kidd

from New Jersey. In the

San Antonio Express News,

Parker said, "To be honest with you, I'm really happy for that trade. [DeSagana] Diop was doing a good job on us, and Devin Harris, most of the time, he played good against us. So I thought it would be good for us. No disrespect to Jason Kidd, he's a great point guard, but those guys that left always gave us trouble."

Quirky note on the trade

When the Mavs pulled the trigger, they were 23-7 vs. the West.

His own little world

This is injured Washington star

Gilbert Arenas

, in the March issue of

Men's Journal

, on his favorite place on Earth:

"I'm building it right now in my backyard: a replica of Hugh Hefner's pool, only a little better. It has a grotto and everything, but with flat-screen TVs, a kitchen, and a bathroom. No bunnies."

Words to live by

Shaquille O'Neal

, as he joined the Phoenix Suns: "When we get used to each other, we'll be the most dangerous team ever created."

Shaq, on new teammate Amare Stoudemire: "He's actually 72 percent better than I thought he was."

New Cavs big man Ben Wallace, asked whether he was treated fairly by the media and the fans in Chicago: "I'm used to being under the bus by myself, so that doesn't bother me." *

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