In Allen Iverson's return on Monday against Denver, the 76ers won the opening tap and, before long, Iverson found himself with the ball, driving down the right side of what mysteriously became a wide-open lane. Think Moses and the Red Sea.
And after a couple of hard-driving dribbles to the hoop, Iverson rose and appeared ready to deposit one of his patented high-banking layups.
But his legs could not provide the normal lift, and the ball didn't get high enough and fell harmlessly off the rim.
His first game with the Sixers provided Iverson with the clues to where he is physically after not playing an NBA game in more than a month and only fourth this season. He talked after the game of his mind wanting to do certain things, but his body forbidding it.
Yesterday at his first postgame practice in his second era with the team, Iverson didn't just go through the motions, but was mindful of the work needed to bring his body back to where he wants it.
"I was sore when I first got here [to practice], but after I ran around and did a couple drills, it kind of went away," Iverson said. "I know it's something that I'll probably have to deal with for a little while in the morning, but the most important thing is, once I get sore and stiff, I can run around and loosen up and I can get right. I was really going at my own pace, trying to do a little bit more. Obviously, we had a game [Monday], so coach [Eddie Jordan] probably didn't want to put the guys through a whole lot, so I just did a little extra work afterward just to try to get my stamina right and get my legs stronger."
When media members were allowed to watch, practice was concluding. Usually at that time, players will shoot on their own for a while and give interviews. Iverson, though, ran several sprints on the far end of the court.
"I know it's going to be a tough process for me," he said of regaining his game shape. "[Monday] was probably the hardest thing to deal with in my career, being that I wanted to do so well, but I was unable to be effective like I wanted to physically. I understand that it's going to be a work in progress, and I can't get frustrated with the whole thing. All I can do is work hard and then, once my rhythm comes back and my legs are stronger, then I'll be effective on the basketball court."
And what's the best way to get back to where he wants to be?
"Just by playing, just by running around," Iverson said. "Today, I kind of surprised myself, being I got loose as fast as I did, and I was able to go through the whole practice, and I didn't want to come out, because I just wanted to push through it and get as much work as I could, being as we have a game [tonight]."
The Sixers will host another of Iverson's former teams when the Detroit Pistons visit tonight.
They will look to snap a 10-game losing streak and try to find some conformity with their new/old star back in the lineup.
"We always feel that way [about to turn things around]," Jordan said. "We're enthusiastic every day, and it's a tough time to test a lot of things about you. It tests the way you go about your job, how you communicate with your teammates and coaches. It tests you in every way. And our guys are coming through in that regard with flying colors. We just have to get things done in the basketball court to make sure [the losing streak] ends.
"I just don't want to be negative. We have enough negative with the [5-16] record. I want to be positive in every sense, in everything I say. I just want to be positive and think in terms of just get better, and I've got a lot of responsibility to make that happen. I take a lot of the blame. We just want to get better. I need to be positive in every regard, every statement I make. Everywhere I go, I need to be positive."
If, after 10 straight losses, a coach can do that, that's pretty special. The hope is that the addition of No. 3 can be, too.
"Sometimes, you take some bumps in the road early in the season, and we definitely have taken some," said guard Willie Green, who scored the only two points by the Sixers bench in Monday's 93-83 loss. "We want to try to get on a winning path pretty soon.
"Everybody's excited that Allen's back, but the fact of the matter is we've got to win basketball games. That's what he's here for; that's what we're here for as a team, and it starts right here in practice."
And nobody right now is benefiting more from practice than Iverson, trying to return to his form. And the hope is once that happens, long losing streaks will be an afterthought.
"I think by me being out there and [opponents] worrying about what I'm doing and concentrating on me, it will help them out so much more," Iverson said of his teammates. "And at times, I think those guys will be so effective with me being out there, they'll get a lot more attention, and it will help out me. I'm just waiting for the opportunity when all the attention comes off me and I can be effective to help this team.
"As a basketball player, when they take something away from you, you have to do something else."
Rookie guard Jrue Holiday was a full participant in practice, though he acknowledged his strained right rotator cuff was still sore. He hopes to play tonight . . . Marreese Speights continued to push his workouts as he recovers from a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee. He might be only a couple of weeks from returning . . . Guard Lou Williams (fractured jaw) was shooting after practice, though his return is still about 6 weeks away. *