A month ago, it seemed inconceivable: Jason Kapono, a starter.
Fans would have sworn the 76ers were playing an early April Fool's Day joke on the 6-foot-8 forward. That's because he didn't even get off the bench in 25 of the team's first 70 contests.
But Kapono is expected to make his third consecutive start when the Sixers (25-47) entertain the Atlanta Hawks (46-25) tonight at the Wachovia Center.
"I'm glad I'm back on the floor," he said following yesterday's team film study at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "And . . . what I like to do is play basketball."
With only 10 players on the active roster, the seldom-used player started in the team's last two games, against the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks. Coach Eddie Jordan altered his starting lineup - turning away from guard Willie Green - because he wanted to have a "guard option" off the bench. Jrue Holiday, Green and seldom-used Jodie Meeks were the only available guards for those games.
In Monday's 109-93 loss at home against Orlando, Kapono made both his three-point attempts en route to six points, two assists and a steal in 25 minutes, 19 seconds. He had 10 points, three rebounds and a steal in 22:56 in Wednesday's 101-86 victory at Milwaukee.
Kapono took averages of 4.5 points and 14.2 minutes into the Orlando game. He had scored a total of seven points in 14 games from Dec. 26 to March 12.
The six-year NBA veteran, acquired from the Toronto Raptors in June to provide outside shooting, admits the inactivity was frustrating, perhaps with just cause. Kapono entered the season tied with Steve Kerr for the highest three-point percentage in NBA history (45.4 percent). Last season, Kapono averaged 8.2 points, 2 rebounds and a career-high 1.3 assists in 22.9 minutes with the Raptors. He shot 42.8 percent from three-point range.
"It's super tough just because as a player you feel that you can help the team win," he said. "You always want to be out there. Every player thinks that they're the best. Every player thinks that they should play the most minutes and should get the most shots."
Instead, he witnessed a number of games from the end of the bench.
To keep himself ready and mentally focused, Kapono reverted to his routine as a seldom-used rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003-04.
"You know, come in early, try to get shots up, try to simulate the game as much as possible throughout practice," he said. "And you know you got to be ready."
Notes: The Sixers will play tonight's game without forward Thaddeus Young (thumb). Guard Lou Williams (low back) will be a game-time decision. . . . This is the Sixers' third meeting of the season against Atlanta. The Hawks won the previous two by an average of 16.5 points.