FOR NEARLY 2 months, the 76ers have gone through training camp, seven preseason games and now 14 regular-season contests. While much is known about the team - particularly that Jrue Holiday is flourishing at point guard - there are still many, many questions.
It can't be forgotten that this team was built around the thinking that Andrew Bynum would be manning the middle offensively and defensively and that the pieces gathered would be suitable for that foundation. There are plenty of good three-point shooters (38 percent overall) and viable frontcourt players who are trying somehow to make up the 20 points and 12 rebounds Bynum was expected to provide.
That has been tricky. Coach Doug Collins is still figuring out the starting center spot. Some nights, he'll need the bulk of Kwame Brown. But Brown has been bothered by a calf injury and his status is unreliable. Other times, Collins needs the undersized Lavoy Allen, but the 6-9 Temple product has been inconsistent.
Thaddeus Young has been valiant yet again as the starting power forward, but he is usually matched against much bigger and stronger opponents. At times this season, Collins has even had to use a lineup that had Young playing center. Spencer Hawes has been used mostly as a power forward so far, but that really isn't a desirable defensive matchup for Collins, so he is forced to match Hawes with one of the more physical players on the team, usually Allen or Brown.
It's easy to see that the continued absence of Bynum because of knee trouble has wreaked havoc on what seemed to be a roster that would be among the best in the Eastern Conference. But Bynum and his knees are shelved for who knows how long, and answers need to be found. It doesn't matter who it is on a given day, but Collins will call on anyone.
In Sunday's win over the Phoenix Suns, after Hawes got beat for a baseline layup and called for a foul, Collins - in what seemed like a desperate move - called for Brown to see his first action of the game. Although the 7-footer didn't provide anything but a couple of points and fouls in 5 minutes, 38 seconds, the Sixers did quickly turn a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead and rode that to the 104-101 win.
Earlier in the game, Collins gave rookie Arnett Moultrie a 7-minute run to see how he might be able to fill one of the many gaps in the low post. But the 6-10 Moultrie provided little, supplying no rebounds or points and was relegated to the bench once again.
But don't expect that to be the end of the Moultrie experiment. And expect to see some more of fellow rookie Maalik Wayns, who provided some spark Sunday during a 7-minute stint in the first half.
"I thought Maalik Wayns gave us a good 7 minutes," said Collins, whose team hosts the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday. "He got seven shots up and gave us seven points. I thought he did a good job for us. Arnett got out there and got his feet wet a little bit. But I talked to him and told him, 'You can't play 7 minutes and not get a rebound. One of the reasons you're out there is because you've got to go get that ball.' In the first half, Spencer played 15 [minutes] and had no defensive rebounds and Arnett 7 [minutes]. So two of our bigs guys played 22 minutes without a rebound. That's an area we've got to rebound the ball."
When they don't, the task at hand gets even harder. They have to defend longer, they can't get out and run as much, and Collins ultimately is left scrambling to find some sort of low-post answers. Sometimes it may be Brown, other times Moultrie, or perhaps Hawes or Young or Allen.
Without Bynum, it appears to be a crapshoot just about every game.