Samuel Dalembert, who admitted he had felt a "little bit on the outside" through 21 games this season, actually was on the outside yesterday at the 76ers' practice.

Dalembert was one of three injured Sixers who watched the practice at the Philadelphia of Osteopathic Medicine.

The center sat out with swelling in his left knee. An MRI was negative.

Power forward Elton Brand, who has missed the last two games with a strained right hamstring, participated in noncontact drills. He was expected to return to practice today.

Guard Lou Williams rested with a right abdominal strain. He was listed as day-to-day.

Coach Maurice Cheeks said he expected all three to play in tomorrow night's home game against Cleveland.

After yesterday's practice, Dalembert spoke of his difficult first quarter of the season, which has coincided with the Sixers' struggling start.

Dalembert has started all 21 contests, but is averaging 6.0 points and 8.2 rebounds in 25.7 minutes a game. Recently, a large chunk of his court time has gone to rookie Marreese Speights and veteran Theo Ratliff.

In the last six games, Dalembert has recorded no points three times. In one of those games, he didn't even take a shot.

"I have to accept what it is and work with the organization," Dalembert said of his diminishing minutes.

Speaking of the team, he added: "Obviously there is a problem, and we're trying to fix the problem. We're trying all different things."

Dalembert said that he didn't think he had been the problem, and that if he was, somebody would talk to him.

"It's not like he doesn't go out and try," Cheeks said. "For the most part, I like his effort when he goes on the floor."

Cheeks said that he also "likes what Theo does on the floor," and that increasing Ratliff's minutes means Dalembert hasn't been allowed to play his way out of certain situations.

Cheeks also said he had noticed that at halftime of games, Dalembert's knee was wrapped with ice.

"I know it's bothering him," Cheeks said.

Dalembert spoke of the shifting roles of two teammates who, over the years, had created opportunities for him: Williams and swingman Andre Iguodala.

Dalembert said "things haven't been the same for those guys" within the offense, thus affecting his production as well.

"Whatever the case is, I'm going to go out and play hard for this team," Dalembert said.

Free throws. Cheeks said that during yesterday's practice, Brand "tried to get out there a couple of times and we didn't let him." . . . Advance ticket sales for tomorrow's game against LeBron James and the Cavaliers stood at about 14,000, which was second to Wednesday's game against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in advance sales this season. . . . Tickets to the Sixers' game at the Wachovia Spectrum, against the Chicago Bulls on March 13, go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday.