Coach Doug Collins has been hard at work trying to prepare the 76ers for the NBA season, so much so that he hasn't had much time to do his holiday shopping.
But unlike holiday shoppers out mixing and matching gifts, Collins will begin the process of mixing and matching the right players with one another on Friday in anticipation of the grueling, condensed 66-game season that is right around the corner.
With just two preseason games on the schedule as a result of the lockout, beginning with Friday's opener at Washington, Collins appears to have his starting lineup set. But he still has a lot of tinkering he wants to do - mainly with different combinations of players - before the season begins in less than two weeks.
"Tomorrow probably nobody will play more than 24 minutes," Collins, recognizing the importance of keeping his players rested early, said after practice Thursday at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "We've got 10 or 11 guys that I would like to get their time if I could. We'll see different combinations, and the next time they come back maybe they'll be out there with different guys so I get a feel maybe of who is playing well together."
Collins believes that the roster, a year older, has some intriguing combinations that will keep teams off balance. For instance, he envisions 6-foot-7 second-year guard Evan Turner, who likely will come off the bench Friday, playing extended minutes alongside guard Lou Williams and forward Thaddeus Young.
In the regular season, Collins, like all coaches, will deploy his players as the circumstances dictate. However, he said Thursday that he won't follow a script in the Washington games, mostly because the Sixers are much more familiar with each other than they were when he arrived last year and had to install his system.
But no one should make the mistake of thinking that the Sixers are just going to go out, break a sweat for a quarter or so, then roll up the carpet. The fact that they have just two games is good and bad. Good in that the preseason won't be long and drawn out; and bad in that there is little time to fine-tune things.
"They do matter a lot," power forward Elton Brand said. "It's not like the preseason, where we've been beating up on each other. Here there is more game pressure, more game intensity. Preseason games don't count on the stat sheet, but they count in terms of what we need to do to get ourselves better. This is the first time where we are playing against a team where we don't know their sets and they don't know ours."
Andre Iguodala has had, according to Collins, the best training camp of any player on the roster. His achy knees are rested and he says he feels as fresh as he has in years. But this, he added, won't keep him from taking a serious approach to Friday night's game.
"We just have two, and that's a good thing," Iguodala said. "It's good because it forces you to be sharp. When you start getting to four, five, and six preseason games, they start to drag. I think we're very close to being where we want to be. These games will help us get a better understanding of where we need to improve."