WELL NOW, what have we here?

The local professional basketball team is starting to raise some eyebrows (saying they're drawing interest might be a little far-fetched as the mostly empty Wells Fargo Center would attest each home game).

Consider:

* Defense has become something more to the players than what you have to do when you don't have the ball.

* Jodie Meeks' insertion into the starting lineup has been like adding water to a dying plant - you can practically see the offense coming to life right before your eyes.

* After a dismal start in which he spent much more time during games on the bench than on the court, center Spencer Hawes (acquired in offseason trade from Sacramento) is rounding into a decent offensive option and a reliable rebounder.

* Now mostly healthy for the first time this young season, swingman Andre Iguodala is regaining his defensive form and starting to put up the consistent offensive numbers that have accompanied him for most of his seven seasons here.

* Thaddeus Young, so baffled and downtrodden most all of last season with Eddie Jordan at the helm, has become that promising, young forward again.

All of these parts have helped a 3-13 record improve to 7-14. It has put new bounce in the players' steps. It has allowed coach Doug Collins enough confidence to give the team yesterday off, even though they will play the best team in the Eastern Conference tonight, the Boston Celtics.

Things are going well with the Red, White and Blue right now. Questions of whether Collins will be able to make it through the season have ceased, and rumblings of another nine-win season (the other being in 1973) have died.

Winning feels oh-so-good, covers a lot of wounds, masks what could be long-term blemishes, and garners off-days.

This current stretch, four wins in the past five games, has come mainly because of the above-mentioned factors.

On Hawes, Collins said: "He missed 16 days [in the preseason with a strained lower back], and it set him way back. Big guys, they need that work, and it set him way back. I give Spencer a lot of credit. He has worked very hard. We had the strength and conditioning coach [Jesse Wright] call the Sacramento people. I wanted to know what his body weight and body fat were when he had his best year out there. We just mentioned it to him and he has worked hard. A big part of what he is doing right now is that he is in great shape. He has got that cocky part about him again, which made him good out of college. I thought he lost that in Sacramento. I think he got beat down a little bit, and he is getting resurrected."

The defense has allowed a little less than 90 points a game over the past five; Meeks is becoming the first dead-eye shooter from the starting "two" guard spot that this team has seen in a long, long time. Besides Hawes, Iguodala also is finally in shape, now that a wrist and an Achilles' tendon have healed. Young might be playing the best stretch of ball in his 4-year career.

"I think our guys are feeling good about themselves," Collins said after Tuesday's 20-point win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But - and here's where cynicism arises for a team coming off a 55-loss season - will winning now hinder this team's future? Is making the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed the way the organization should want to go? Certainly, tanking a season is not an option. Adhering to losing brings about only more negatives, in my book.

And here's another observation: Meeks' newfound stardom has meant Evan Turner has become an afterthought. No question, 21 games into a career is nowhere close to being enough of a measuring stick for Turner's career, but what about where he is right now?

In the locker room before the Atlanta game Friday, the day Turner was pulled from the starting lineup for the first time in favor of Meeks, the rookie expressed his bewilderment on how he is being used by the team so far. Is he a ballhandler, is he an off-the-ball guard?

It kind of ties in with the other question: Is this team better off winning and making a playoff push now, or playing the likes of Turner and seeing what they have and what moves need to be made?

That is why losing brings so many problems. Simple solutions are not easy. As much as winning streaks are a welcomed relief from the alternative, do they just mask the bigger problems?

BRACKINS BUSTING

In three games so far with the Springfield Armor, of the NBA Development League, Craig Brackins is averaging 20.3 points and 9.3 rebounds, while hitting 50 percent of his shots.

Brackins, a rookie out of Iowa State whom the Sixers acquired in an offseason trade with the New Orleans Hornets, was sent down Nov. 30 after getting only one game of action for the Sixers.

DRIBBLES

UPCOMING GAMES:

vs. Boston Celtics, 8 o'clock tonight, TNT/WPHT (1210-AM)

The skinny: The Sixers have played well of late, but this is the Celtics, who are so far, by far, the best team in the Eastern Conference. Will be interesting to see how the Sixers will handle themselves.

vs. New Orleans Hornets, Noon Sunday, Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: Chris Paul is still one of the NBA's most exciting players. Gauging Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday's progress has become a big hobby among Sixers fans. This is a very good test.

at New Jersey Nets, 7 o'clock Tuesday, Comcast SportsNet/WPHT (1210-AM)

The skinny: The Sixers beat down on the Nets once this season, though center Brook Lopez lit them up, as he usually does.

vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 7 o'clock Wednesday, Comcast SportsNet/WIP (610-AM)

The skinny: This will be the first appearance in Philadelphia for Clippers big man Blake Griffin, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. He is well worth the price of admission.

BY THE NUMBERS:

22.2: During the Cleveland Cavaliers' five-game losing streak, that's how many points they have averaged losing by.

10: Though their record is 7-14, the Sixers have been outscored by opponents by only 10 points this season.

15.7: That's the average margin of victory in the Sixers' seven victories.