NEW ORLEANS - When Willie Green was traded by the 76ers to the New Orleans Hornets, he spoke about it being one of the toughest days of his life.
Recent events have helped Green realize that trades are way down on a list of importance.
In the early morning of Dec. 20, a few hours after watching Green play a game in Detroit, his sister, Tamara Green, and a cousin, Gary Green, were killed in a car accident. Green missed five games after the tragedy, but is now back with his team and trying to put one of the most difficult times of his life behind him.
"I'm a faithful and spiritual guy," Green said. "As tough as it was and is and is going to be, I just believe these are the times you rely on the love and support of your family and lean on your faith, knowing that God is in control of everything. This is going to be a tough situation, no matter what happens, but life continues to go on. The people that I lost are going to be in my memories and in my heart.
"Everybody's [family] doing the best that they can with the situation. It's tough. We all rally around each other and continue to show love and support. There's always going to be some positives that come out of every situation. Those are the things we're just trying to hang our hats on right now."
Forward Jason Smith, who was traded along with Green to the Hornets for Darius Songaila and Craig Brackins, knows how important it was for Green to come back to his teammates.
"It's been tough on him," Smith said. "From a basketball point of view, we just had to give him some space. It's hard for anyone to deal with something like that. One of the best things you can do is doing this [playing basketball], that's for sure. Our hearts went out to him each and every day. We hope he can recover. He's doing good right now."
Green, who spent seven seasons with the Sixers, said he was glad to "get back and have some sort of normalcy to my life."
"It just goes to show you how you have to cherish the people that you're around and life in general," he said, "because two young people that I loved and that I was close to are gone just like that. After something like that, you realize that basketball is not the biggest thing in life. It's really your family and the love and support of your friends. It does feel good to get back and playing with these guys. It takes your mind off of some of that stuff."
Since getting on a plane after a home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 17, the Sixers have been on the road. The players had a little bit of extra bounce in their steps in the locker room before the game last night, and laughter and smiles were common. A familiar place, and bed, awaited each of them.
"It feels great," Thaddeus Young said. "We came to the whole trip wanting to accomplish a goal of going 4-4 or better. We dropped two close ones to two extremely good teams [Lakers and Celtics, each four-point losses]. Anytime you're in games like that you learn from them and draw from it the next game."
The Sixers finished the road trip at 3-5 after last night's 84-77 loss to the Hornets. The trip didn't start too well as the Sixers lost the second game in Chicago by 45 points. Afterward, Young had some words for his teammates.
"The Chicago game wasn't us at all," Young said. "We didn't do anything. After the game, coach asked us what we had to say, and I spoke up and said, 'We got our butts kicked and we didn't do anything right. We didn't do any of the things that we know we could do. We just went out there and played. We didn't play to win, we just went out and played.' We can't do that. We need to execute, we need to go out and play hard each and every night."
During pregame warmups, starting center Spencer Hawes strained the middle of his back and was sidelined. He was replaced by Marreese Speights. Hawes missed 16 days during the preseason with a lower-back strain. This injury is in a different spot. *
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