While former coach Maurice Cheeks offered his thoughts on his team's struggles this season, the 76ers practiced under new coach Tony DiLeo, working to salvage what began promisingly two months ago.

Behind a microphone at the Wachovia Center, Cheeks displayed the same unselfish, team-first approach he became known for during his playing days. Similar to refusing to blame a teammate's poor pass for a missed shot, Cheeks refused to point the finger at anyone within the Sixers organization.

Yesterday's news conference marked his first public appearance since Saturday's events, when president and general manager Ed Stefanski fired Cheeks 23 games into his fourth season as head coach of the Sixers.

Cheeks' record this season was 9-14; overall he was 122-147.

The Sixers defeated the Washington Wizards on Saturday night in DiLeo's coaching debut.

Tonight at 7, the Sixers play the Milwaukee Bucks (11-15) at the Wachovia Center.

"This is a tough situation for me, but it's part of the business," Cheeks said yesterday. "If you're not winning games, things happen."

Added Cheeks: "I used to say when we had a bad game, 'It's a moment, and it will pass.' Well this is a moment. I take solace in the fact I did the best I could. . . . I'm not going to go into the blame game."

When a team underperforms, it can be the coach's fault, Cheeks said: "In my case, it was the coach."

Cheeks tiptoed like an acrobat around delicate questions concerning the construction of the roster and the short leash given to him to mold a revamped team.

"I'm not getting into the X's and O's part of it," Cheeks repeated. "My job is to go out and win games, whether they hired 10 new players or one new player."

Cheeks, who said he was flying to Miami after the news conference, said he would consider working within the organization in a different capacity, but not before taking some time away.

As Cheeks said his goodbyes at the arena where he spent much of the last three winters, the team was a few miles north, at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, in the practice gym they call home.

Squeezing victories out of this team is now DiLeo's responsibility. Yesterday he said the focus of the last two days - his first practices with the team - has been improving ball and player movement within the offense.

"It's not completely new," DiLeo said of the implemented offensive sets. "We want to swing the ball and move the defense."

"He's putting his stamp on the team," said power forward Elton Brand. "Different set offenses, flows, defensive sets. He's added in a few wrinkles."

Brand said Cheeks' firing sent a message to the players, too: making it clear that the organization wants to win now.

Brand, who has been accused of slowing last season's run-and-gun squad, said meshing the two styles - an efficient half-court game with the fastbreak - was "definitely going to take some time."

Brand said the Sixers' goal this season was to improve upon last season's first-round exit from the playoffs. Thus the six off-season additions.

"It's not like they won the championship," Brand said of last year, in response to those who might question why Stefanski added players to what had been a successful season.

DiLeo continued to meet with players yesterday.

"I told everyone I wanted to meet with them individually," he said. "I tell them expectations and their role on this team."