Yesterday on the 76ers' practice floor, a ring of media surrounded Allen Iverson.
As Iverson spoke, Lou Williams, in street clothes, walked out of the gym at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine without interruption.
It was an odd moment considering that two weeks ago, the Sixers were Williams' team and he was the one answering questions.
Iverson practiced with the Sixers for the first time since officially rejoining the team Friday. Williams suffered a broken jaw Nov. 24, sidelining him for eight weeks, which facilitated Iverson's return.
Tonight, Iverson is expected to start for the Sixers against the Denver Nuggets at the Wachovia Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7, and as of last night, ticket availability was "limited."
After practice, Sixers coach Eddie Jordan said he anticipated having Iverson in the starting lineup. Iverson practiced with a first team that included Willie Green, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand, and Samuel Dalembert.
Swingman Andre Iguodala, the team's leading scorer, did not practice because of a sprained ankle suffered in Saturday night's loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. Iguodala will be a game-time decision tonight.
Jordan said Iverson's "presence," even after just one day, has already elevated the team's level of play.
The Sixers (5-15) have lost nine straight and 10 of their last 11 games. The Nuggets, to whom the Sixers traded Iverson in 2006, are 15-5.
Yesterday's practice lasted less than an hour.
"It's going to take a while and I think it's important for my coaching staff, my teammates, and the fans to be a little patient with me because my rhythm is not there and the conditioning is definitely not there," Iverson said afterward. "It's going to take a lot of steps, but I'll get there."
Iverson, a 10-time all-star in his 14th NBA season, played only three games with the Memphis Grizzlies before parting ways with them last month. Iverson said his basketball sense is intact, although his rhythm and flow are not.
The guard said tonight's game is "probably more for the fans than anything else."
"It's going to take a while. . . . I'm not going to lie to myself," Iverson said. "I'm not in the basketball shape that I want to be in. And at times out here, I got real winded, and once you get winded like that, your arms get weak and your legs get weak. And obviously, I'm going to have to be the judge of that and be honest with Coach about when I'm going to have to get a blow, because one thing I don't want to do is go out there and hurt the team."
Jordan sounded pleased with Iverson's effort, saying he looked good, but he acknowledged the team would monitor his conditioning.
"A lot of energy," said Jordan, describing the difference in practice. "A lot of veteran presence on the floor, a lot of hop to everybody's step. There was really great energy and anticipation and it was better than I expected . . . because of his presence, because of his movement on the floor. What he does on the ball, off the ball, how he talks . . . because of all the things the average person doesn't see."
Jordan said everyone who played with Iverson yesterday "got easier shots."
As for defense, which through 20 games the Sixers have rarely played, Jordan said he asked Iverson if he'd ever played a matchup zone. Jordan explained that Iverson responded, "Coach, 14 years in the league, I played matchup somewhere - I just don't remember."
"So that's going to be good for us, too, in that way to help us save his legs a little bit," Jordan said. "Mix up some man and zone."
Iverson was asked if he felt any pressure.
"I don't put no pressure on myself because it's basketball, it's something that I love to do," he said. "I can add a lot of leadership, do a lot of talking more than I used to do . . . giving them that confidence and just having the eye of the tiger and just letting them know they're playing with a winner."
Injury update. Rookie Jrue Holiday and second-year center Marreese Speights ran through a three-man weave drill at practice. Holiday has a strained right rotator cuff, suffered during Friday's practice. He missed Saturday's game and is listed as day-to-day. Speights, out for at least another three weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, has been cleared for on-court running.