NEW YORK - In the locker room before a recent game in Washington, while his younger teammates were out on the floor shooting around, 13-year veteran Tony Battie rolled his body around on a giant rubber ball, stretching out all the muscles that have endured the rigors of hundreds of NBA games.
"I've got to warm up just to go out and warm up," Battie joked as he continued his stretching.
Brought in before the season as someone who could help mentor a young locker room and provide some interior defensive presence, Battie also packed a bum right knee that limited him in the preseason. He is healthy now, and being relied on by Doug Collins even more than the 76ers coach expected. Yesterday, Battie was instrumental in helping the Sixers erase a nine-point third-quarter deficit on their way to a 106-96 win over the New York Knicks to improve to 2-5.
After the game, Collins called Battie his Mariano Rivera, because he can help close out games with his defense, just like the Yankees' closer.
"I like that, I'll take that," Battie said after being informed of his coach's compliment. "But it is definitely a team win. The guys did a great job of shutting down on [Amar'e Stoudemire] and still getting out on the shooters and not letting them shoot the air out of the ball. It was a great collective defensive effort for us tonight."
And one in which Battie played a big part, scoring six points, grabbing five rebounds and playing solid defense in almost 16 minutes on the court.
"I'm ready, the knee problem is gone, knock on wood," he said. "I'm feeling good and ready to roll with the punches."
The Sixers certainly have been taking some shots of their own so far. Starting center Spencer Hawes has struggled on both ends of the floor and fellow big-man sub Marreese Speights is still trying to grasp the whole defensive concept.
"[Defense] has to be played both mentally and physically," Battie said. "Mentally you have to know what's going on with the schemes and being at the right place at the right time and learning the angles. Sometimes just being in the right spot to discourage a drive to the basket or make a guy look for his second option. Being in certain spots, having your hands up and making yourself look big are things you have to do physically."
Andre Iguodala didn't talk to reporters yesterday about his strained right Achilles' tendon injury. He seemed to be moving well through the locker room before the game. Andres Nocioni, who re-aggravated a sprained left ankle on Friday, started and played without problem. With Iguodala out, guard Jodie Meeks was activated for the first time this season. Rookie Craig Brackins was deactivated for the seventh straight game.
Chairman Ed Snider was in Madison Square Garden, sitting in the front row behind one of the baskets. Comedian Chris Rock and director Spike Lee also attended.