Praising Speights

DENVER - It's official: 76ers rookie Marreese Speights is good, really good.

The proof is in the numbers.

John Hollinger of ESPN has released his player efficiency ratings (PER) for rookies. Here's how Hollinger explains it: "The PER is a rating of a player's per-minute productivity. . . . Two important things to remember about PER is that it's per-minute and pace-adjusted."

After Hollinger crunched the minutes, rebounds, field goals, blocked shots, turnovers, and every other quantitative statistic, the rookie at the top of the list was Speights.

Better than big-name rookies O.J. Mayo, Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. With a PER of 20.17, Speights was well above second-place rookie Mayo, whose PER was 17.05.

Through 29 games, Speights is averaging 7.6 points and 3.8 rebounds in 14.8 minutes a game.

It might be time to increase that minutes-per-game average.

Fantasy killer

Before the Sixers' game Friday night against the Nuggets, Denver coach George Karl joked about his guard J.R. Smith.

"I would think he drives fantasy players crazy," Karl said, quickly adding that based on what he knows about fantasy basketball, he would believe this to be true. Smith, not known for his consistency, went out and scored 27 points against the Sixers.

Keeping the faith

New Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale, who came down from the Minnesota front office, won for the first time as head coach Friday night. The Timberwolves defeated the New York Knicks, 120-107, breaking a 13-game losing streak.

"The guys have been playing hard and we really needed this one," McHale told the Associated Press. "At the end of the game, I said, 'Thank God,' and I meant it."

Added McHale: "Anything worth having in life takes some faith. And when that faith happens, it's a beautiful thing. And they've got to have faith that when they go out and play hard, good things are going to happen for them."

Minnesota took a 5-23 record into last night's game with Orlando. That includes a win over the Sixers this season.

- Kate Fagan