Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni can smile over the addition of shot blocker Tyson Chandler to a frontline that already boasts Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.

And while he shouldn't expect to get much defense out of Richard Hamilton, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau will be much happier to have the Coatesville native rather than Keith Bogans playing opposite MVP point guard Derrick Rose.

But while the first and sixth seeds, respectively, appear to be among teams that have improved their roster, Sixers coach Doug Collins, runner-up to Thibodeau last season in coach of the year balloting, doesn't have any new toys to tinker with.

Instead, Collins, after presiding over a 14-win improvement from the 2009-10 season - the third-best improvement from one season to the next in franchise history - has virtually the same roster as last year.

This is no surprise to Collins. He knew that the lockout, salary cap constraints and luxury tax fears would keep the Sixers from reloading the way some others have. He understands that team president Rod Thorn wants to see the roster, a mixture of veterans (Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala) and potential next-generation types (Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner), improve.

It makes Collins' job more difficult, but he feels the Sixers can still improve.

"If you ask me do I think we're more prepared right now than we were at this time last year, I would says yes," Collins offered. "I like our guys. When I look at our team, I see guys who are willing to work hard; guys who are willing to sacrifice. These are good guys that are committed to doing that."

Collins has lauded his players the entire preseason and it seems genuine. He believes that Iguodala, the Sixers' best all-around player, can rebound from a down season. He believes that Elton Brand, who started all 81 games last season and led the Sixers in scoring (15.0), rebounding (8.3), and blocks (1.3) can improve in all of these categories.

Center Spencer Hawes is in much better condition than he was last season and has rebounded very well in the preseason, and everyone in the organization says that Evan Turner, last year's No. 2 overall pick in the draft, had a wonderful offseason and is now brimming with confidence.

Brand believes that Collins will bring out the best in the assembled talent.

"I think you can coach a player up," Brand says. "You can get the most out of players but getting them in particular situations where they do what they can be successful. He makes sure that jump shooters get open to shoot jumpers, stuff like that. He keeps your confidence up high. But the key is that he expects guys to play their role."

One thing Collins has done is instill among his players a belief that they are not really respected by their peers.

"We have been slighted by some around the league," Brand says. "We want to let our play do our talking for us."

Beginning Monday night in Portland, Brand and his teammates will get that opportunity. They will play their first five games on the road, and they won't play a home game until they face Detroit on Jan. 6.

From there, the schedule, condensed because of the lockout, gets interesting. They will play 18 of the next 22 games at home. However, during that span they will play four back-to-back series, and beginning Jan. 9 they will play games on three consecutive nights.

"It's a grueling schedule and you're going to have to be tough," Collins said. "We're going to have to have strength in numbers.

"But the biggest issue is the unknown, and that's something that all teams are going to have to confront," Collins said. "Nobody - nobody - really knows what to expect."

Contact staff writer John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow him on Twitter @deepsixer3