PRACTICE CAN BE a monotonous routine in the NBA, even more so if you rarely see game action.
Craig Brackins, however, embraces every practice as if it's his first, most times staying late for extra shooting practice or some games of two-on-two. Still, he had seen action in just one game this season, deactivated for most.
Yesterday, Brackins returned to the 76ers after a five-game stint with the Springfield Armor of the NBA Development League. His average numbers were impressive in those five games - 17.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. More than numbers, though, it was a chance for Brackins to get back his confidence and work on things that will garner him some minutes with the Sixers.
"It was a good experience," said Brackins, who was deactivated for yesterday's game against the New Orleans Hornets. "It felt real good. I feel like I'm in better shape now, I got to play, work on my defense.
"My focal point was on the defensive end, just trying to get back, working on screen defense, on the ball, pick-and-roll. Just trying to work on stuff they wanted me to work on."
It was the first of what could be multiple moves to the NBADL for Brackins. The Sixers' coaching staff has high expectations for the rookie.
"We kept good tabs on him," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "He did a good job. Our strength and conditioning coach said his strength levels held up. He had a chance to go down and get some experience. I think what else it does is you go down there and you realize how precious it is to be up here in the NBA on a daily basis. It was a good experience for him, but I could tell he was excited to be back and we're excited to have him back.
"Sometimes in practice everyday you don't realize how much you're improving because you don't get the minutes in a game. All of the sudden you go down and play and the things that you weren't sure you could do all of the sudden you start seeing results and you start having some success and it raises your confidence level. The main thing with Craig is we know he can score, we know he can shoot the ball and we really want him to work on his defense and rebounding. I think those are two areas that when he can really solidify those, he has a chance to be a really good player in this league. We think he can do a lot of good things."
A lot of familiar faces were in the Wells Fargo Center yesterday when New Orleans came to town.
Randy Ayers, a former head coach of the Sixers who was on Eddie Jordan's staff last season, is now an assistant to head coach Monty Williams.
Guard Willie Green and forward Jason Smith, who spent all of their careers with the Sixers before being traded to New Orleans for Craig Brackins and Darius Songaila, played for the first time at the Wells Fargo Center as an opponent.
"I understood [the trade], it's just the nature of the business," said Green, who spent seven seasons with the Sixers. "It wasn't anything personal. I had a good talk with Rod Thorn, Ed Stefanski, Doug [Collins], Aaron McKie, the staff and the players. After talking to Monty and [general manager] Dall Demps, I was happy to just be going in a different direction."
Green has played in all 23 games for the Hornets this season, averaging 8.5 points in a little over 20 minutes. Like the rest of his team in the Hornets' 88-70 loss, Green struggled. In 25-plus minutes he missed all seven of his shots and was held scoreless.
Though he had been in the league just two seasons, the trade shook Smith.
"I was a little shocked and surprised," he said, "but I thought about it, took a step back from the situation and told myself it was probably for the best. We've had a good season. I think now we just have to get back to the basics. We've struggled here lately but we just have to regroup and get together."
It certainly didn't happen yesterday.