THERE WAS no sign of a moose or a dog or even a 7-foot constitutionalist.

The Sixers Dance Team, which didn't retire to Western Pennsylvania with Hip Hop, had the game off.

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They shot some T-shirts into the crowd, but they've done that since Pat Croce started running the show back in 1996.

Little, if any, of the new out-of-game experience fans can expect at the Wells Fargo Center was on display last night during the Sixers' lone home preseason game.

It was just as well, because only a sparse crowd was on hand to watch the Sixers complete their two-game preseason schedule against the Washington Wizards.

It won't be until the home opener against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 6 before Sixers fans find out what much-hyped changes the new ownership will make to improve the fan experience.

So for now, the Sixers will have to sell themselves strictly on the level of basketball they display.

Last night they didn't lay a 25-point smack-down on the Wizards as they did Friday in Washington, but the 101-94 victory did cap a 2-0 preseason and set the team up for its five-game Western Conference road trip to start the regular season.

"I'm really happy we played that team tonight," Sixers coach Doug Collins said after his team turned a lethargic start into a strong finish. "We had our way with them down in Washington, but tonight I didn't see much juice in us.

"We had a nice finish."

But it was far from an overall efficient effort.

And while that can be expected after a lockout-condensed training camp and preseason, the Sixers cannot really afford to do it if they want to avoid a repeat of the disastrous start that put them so far behind the eight ball last season.

The Sixers know the formula they need to be successful. It includes tough defensive pressure, strong defensive rebounding and taking care of the basketball.

This time against the Wizards, they had none of that.

"We only had 11 deflections on defense when we want to get 35," Collins said. "That shows the lack of activity of our defense, although we did pick it up in the second half.

"We gave them 21 offensive rebounds, and we turned it over 20 times."

Yet somehow, the Sixers still managed to pull out a win while shooting only 41.7 percent and taking 28 fewer shots than Washington.

The Sixers got a strong fourth-quarter finish by point guard Jrue Holiday, who had 12 points and three rebounds in the final 2 1/2 minutes when the Sixers outscored Washington, 14-6.

A year ago, the Sixers had trouble finding a consistent "go-to" guy in the closing moments of tight games.

To see Holiday, who finished with 24 points and six assists, step comfortably into that role at the first opportunity was a positive sign.

"I think tonight was just my turn," Holiday said. "I guess I got a little taste of what [Sixers guard Lou Williams and forward Andre Iguodala] go through.

"It was just preseason, but it felt comfortable. I'm glad they trusted me. I think it definitely shows growth as a player.

"My first 2 years, I wasn't even seeing the ball in the last 3 minutes of a game unless somebody passed it to me. So to have the coaching staff and my teammates trust me with the ball is awesome."

It will be a serious haul for the Sixers before they return to the Wells Fargo Center in 2012.

They start this 66-game season at Portland on Monday and then travel to Phoenix.

The Sixers ring in the New Year with their first back-to-back games in Utah and Golden State.

There's a quick pit stop in Philadelphia to get clean underwear before playing in New Orleans on Jan. 4.

"I'm glad we got the preseason out of the way," Holiday said. "The thing we have to realize is that we can't start out like we did last year. We can't start out slow.

"That's why [the game against Washington] was unacceptable. Everyone in this locker room is disgusted with how we played. We have to come back to practice and just get back to work."

We'll find out whether the new team mascot is a moose, a dog or something else on Jan. 6, but in the time before that we will learn a lot about what could make the biggest positive impression with the fans - the Philadelphia 76ers.

Send email to smallwj@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/Smallwood.