This wasn't exactly an angry Samuel Dalembert, but in the aftermath of Saturday's 95-94 loss to a shell of the Indiana Pacers, you could feel the emotion seeping out of the 76ers center.
Too many times, he seemed to be saying, he has started games, then given way to Marreese Speights and Theo Ratliff and not come back at meaningful times. Too many times, he seemed to be saying, the Sixers have been asking him for more without giving him the minutes to provide it.
He got 36 minutes against the Pacers, and with that time he generated 11 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
"This is the Sam we need every night," coach Tony DiLeo said after the first loss of his four-game tenure as the successor to the fired Maurice Cheeks.
So what, Dalembert was asked, was different?
"Different?" he replied, almost quizzically. "I feel the same. I feel [the same as] yesterday. I feel the same as the day before. Like every game. There is no problem with me. I never complain. I'm ready to play whenever they call me. My main goal is to win.
"We've seen it. I've proven it several times. You need to be on the floor to rebound. Look around the league: There is no big man capable of producing high numbers if he's not on the floor [consistently]."
This was his sixth performance of at least 14 rebounds. He had 17 on Opening Night against Toronto, 17 again Dec. 13 against Washington. He has also been through a stretch where he has gone scoreless in three of six games. He struggled in a nightmare segment of last Friday's victory in Washington when he was called for goaltending three times in less than 5 minutes. He had not played in the fourth quarter of the two games before Saturday. He has, for lack of a better explanation, been consistently inconsistent.
But DiLeo, as Cheeks before him, has waved off the idea of taking Dalembert out of the starting lineup.
"I will give it to Tony every night," Dalembert said. "I will give my best as long as I am on the floor . . . It's kind of difficult when some games you don't know [how much you're going to play]. I can't make [happen] what I did today in 10 minutes. I wish I could. I'm tired of hearing this is what they want from me. I want to produce. I know how good I am, what I can do."
In truth, the Sixers had several performances that should have led to a better result against the Pacers, who were without Danny Granger, Troy Murphy and Marquis Daniels, all of whom had been hospitalized the previous day with a viral infection. On top of that, T.J. Ford (25 points) was playing with a sore groin, Travis Diener was playing despite a sore foot and Maceo Baston was out with back spasms.
But 26 points from Andre Iguodala, 17 from Lou Williams and Andre Miller's eighth career triple-double (14 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds) weren't enough to stave off a shorthanded opponent that had lost in double overtime to the Los Angeles Clippers the previous evening. One last play could have changed everything, but Iguodala's driving, twisting lefthanded layup with 4/10ths of a second remaining rolled off the rim.
"This was one of our tougher losses this year, and one of those games you feel you have to get," Iguodala said. "You've got to get those games if you want to be around [for the playoffs] when April comes."
Their modest winning streak ended despite a 15-point lead in the second quarter and a five-point lead with 2:59 remaining. They were down 93-90 with 49.9 seconds left, then jumped ahead 94-93 on a layup by Iguodala and a steal and fastbreak dunk by Williams at 17.2.
Their defensive strategy to protect the lead was sound, with the 6-6 Iguodala assigned to guard the 6-foot Ford. But Ford, taking advantage of a pick-and-roll that never developed, pulled up and dropped in the decisive 18-foot jumper at 3.9.
What had loomed as a potential "trap" game became one.
"When I talked to the team [in the pregame meeting], I said, 'Against Indiana, you're never out of a game and you never have a safe lead,' " DiLeo said.
Elton Brand, who suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the Dec. 17 victory over Milwaukee, said he hadn't been aware of exactly what had happened until athletic trainer Kevin Johnson said, "Don't worry, we'll put it back in." As for likely missing the anticipated homecoming game against the Clippers on New Year's Eve in Los Angeles, he said with a straight face, "I know all those fans wanted to wish me a happy new year." Brand spent the previous seven seasons with the Clippers, then left in a controversial free-agency move . . .
Willie Green aggravated a sore left ankle in the second quarter against the Pacers, but hoped to be able to participate in at least part of today's practice . . . The Sixers play in Boston tomorrow, the first of six games away from home. *
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