THE PLAY on the court had become more than sloppy; it was almost dangerous. At one point, three players collided and ended up on the floor, slowly checking to make sure all their limbs were still usable.

Right about that time, with a couple of minutes left in the second quarter of scrimmaging at the 76ers' final training-camp practice at Saint Joseph's, Lou Williams grabbed the arm of Andre Iguodala and nodded to Thaddeus Young. All three were on the sideline opposite coach Doug Collins, who sat on an oversized exercise ball.

They made their way to the coach, and Williams put his hand up and slapped down on his coach's hand.

It was time to end.

This was the eighth practice in 6 days. Legs were dragging, minds were numb and the play was becoming unproductive. Collins and the trio of players came to a quick decision.

"I told them before we started that we would go either two or three quarters, and then they came over and said two," Collins said.

The poor scrimmaging was just part of the day. Before that, Collins and his staff were thrilled with the results of what they were teaching.

"[Tuesday night] before our scrimmage, we did some shooting and then we got into our scrimmage," Collins said. "Today, we practiced, like, 2 hours and then we got into the scrimmage and the guys were tired, so they were sloppy and stuff. That's the problem you have with a shortened training camp, where you're trying to get so much in. We didn't get anything out of our scrimmage today, but before that, we got a lot out of our practice. We got a ton of shooting. Our defensive breakdowns were great. Scrimmage wasn't good, but everything else was great. I thought our defensive breakdowns today were as good as we've had, all of last year, as well."

The actions of Young, Iguodala and Williams, and the fact that their coach trusted their opinion, says a lot about how this team is developing.

Back in the day, Collins probably would have made his players push through their fatigue, find a way to grind out three quarters. Yesterday, though, he stopped them once during the first quarter, gathered everyone around, and softly said he knew they were tired but to try to push through. There was no screaming, no pointing out individuals, just a reminder that with 66 games in 123 days, fatigue often will be be a major factor.

"At that point, we really weren't getting anything out of it. We were just in the gym for being in the gym," Williams said. "But I thought we did a good job getting our work done earlier in the day before the scrimmage. But enough was enough. I thought we got our work in.

"He's [Collins] been telling us all camp to communicate with him and be honest and talk to him about how we feel and how our bodies are, so we were just taking advantage of the option that we had."

It certainly won't get easier. After two exhibition games against the Wizards (tomorrow in Washington, Tuesday here) the team begins the season on Dec. 26 with five straight road games, beginning in Portland.

"It's going to be a grind, and it's going to be worse than [in the middle of the season], because then you cut the numbers down, you won't have as many subs, you won't have as much off time," Williams said. "Then you factor in the traveling and moving and game-planning, so I'm sure once we start playing games, the grind will be a little rougher. But that's what we're here for. We're trying to train our bodies and prepare for it."

Rookie improves

Center Nikola Vucevic looked much better Tuesday night and yesterday. Doug Collins said that the rookie had not been sleeping well and that his legs were very heavy. But after a serious dose of icing and massages, Vucevic looked good in yesterday's scrimmage. On one play, he missed a baby-hook from about 5 feet, but grabbed the rebound in the air with his left hand, gained control, and banked in a layup over Elton Brand.

Sixshots

A source said the Sixers will hold an open scrimmage from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Palestra . . . The starting five for yesterday's scrimmage were Brand, Iguodala, Spencer Hawes, Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks . . . A pretty neat move yesterday at the Sixers' media day at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. As players lined up for photos, Thaddeus Young began to sit for a posing session. He then noticed Dwayne Jones standing next in line. "How long have you been in the league?" Young asked. "Five years," Jones responded. Young relinquished his seat.

See, Young has been in the NBA only 4 years.

For more coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at www.philly.com/Sixerville.
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