AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Through 19 games, rookie
has bounced from the end of the 76ers' bench to crucial fourth-quarter minutes.
Last night, with power forward
in Philadelphia nursing a strained right hamstring, Speights, for the first time in his young NBA career, stood on the court for the tip-off.
The opponent was one of the Eastern Conference's best, the Detroit Pistons (11-6). The Sixers were 8-11 and had lost five of six.
"We're going with Speights in [Brand's] spot," coach
said before the game. "We're still going to play the way we've been playing. Our identity is that we're trying to defend, trying to get up and down the floor."
Speights-for-Brand was the only shift in the Sixers' lineup. Going into the game at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Speights was averaging 6.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13.2 minutes. He finished the game with eight points in 221/2 minutes.
Cheeks said he went with Speights because of the power-forward matchup with the Pistons'
. Rather than starting a shooting guard - potentially
- and moving
to small forward and
to power forward, Cheeks wanted the rebounding and size of the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Speights.
"When they're starting out, the rest of the guys out there will help him along out there," Cheeks said of the rest of his starters' directing the rookie. "Those guys understand what he needs to do."
Each Sixer said he was excited to face former 76er
, whether it was because he had played against Iverson or because he respected his game.
"It's cool," point guard
said of facing Iverson. "He is one of the tougher guards for me because he doesn't stop."
Said power forward
: "That's going to be fun, playing against my boy. He's so little and fragile . . . but he's got the heart of a lion."