IT WAS A PLAY Thaddeus Young has made countless times throughout his 6-year career. A loose ball was available near the 76ers' bench Monday, and Young went after it the way he always does, like a hungry dog going after a discarded piece of meat. With no regard for anything but the prize at hand, Young flung his body toward the ball and, after getting tangled with Orlando's Gustavo Ayon, writhed on the floor in obvious pain. He rolled onto his stomach and grabbed for his left hamstring, while pounding his right fist on the floor.

Young suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain and will be out about 3 weeks, the Sixers announced Tuesday. That means Young, with the benefit of the All-Star break during that span, would miss eight games. Of course, hamstrings are tricky injuries, so he might need a little more time.

"It felt like a rubber band snapping a little bit and going back into place," Young, sporting a full leg brace, said after Tuesday's practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "Like the doctor said, 3 weeks in and hopefully I'll be back. We'll just take it 1 day at a time and try to work myself back into what I was doing before. I'm not going to rush it or anything like that. But the good thing is we have All-Star break coming up and take a week of relaxation and try to get myself back in. It's too early to see exactly what the timetable is, but the doctor said most common for it to be 3 or 4 weeks off."

Without Young, the Sixers will be missing more than only his 14.9 points per game. He leads the team in rebounds (7.3), field goal percentage (.522) and steals (1.6). Just as devastating is the loss of one of their best leaders.

"I'll still be around and continue to be that voice and be a guy who talks to the guys and try to bring that energy from the bench," Young said. "I'm still going to be there; I just won't be on the court. But your presence can be felt on the court. It's going to be with a sports coat on the sidelines for the next few games."

The injury comes at a time when the team is playing pretty good basketball, having won four of its last five, including three in a row for the first time in 2 months. Now, without Young, coach Doug Collins will have to rely more on big men Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes, Kwame Brown and rookie Arnett Moultrie to shoulder more of the low-post burdens.

"Sometimes, you have most valuable players and sometimes you have most important players. I thought Thad was our most important player," Collins said. "He gives you speed out on the break. A lot of those times, you'll see those fastbreak points, and we'll have those because Thad has speed and he'll get out on the break. He either runs and takes somebody with him and opens somebody else up or he gets the break himself, so we miss that speed. Now, we're a team that struggles to score, and you take away some easy baskets for us, we're going to have to do a better job executing, and we're going to have to shoot the ball better.

"This is a team that it's hard for them to stay focused for 48 minutes. That's why we have the roller-coaster rides we have in games. That's something that's hurt us and has cost us games. We've got 35 games left, or whatever, and we need to have that focus to play the entire game. We can't have those lapses, especially against the good teams.

"Washington, we were up 16 and they cut it to five late; Sacramento, we were up 19 and they took a one-point lead; and [Monday against Orlando] we were up, 22-6, and I looked up and it was 35-33. We've got to learn that when we have teams in those kinds of situations that we have to continue to do well. We have a tendency sometimes to lose focus. I feel we're playing better. I would like to see a more sustained effort, but I think we're playing better. We have a lot of guys who can step in and play."

One of them is the rookie Moultrie, whose time has been limited all season, but got almost a 12-minute run on Monday.

"I'm pretty much ready to go; whatever the team needs me to do, I can go out there and do it," Moultrie said. "We're all going to have to do it collectively and just bring a lot of energy, whoever the next man is. We lost a man, so I know the opportunity is there for somebody else to fill what the team needs. I'm excited, I'm just going to prepare myself and be ready and if I play I'll be ready. I'm a rebounder, so I'm going to be out there and try to rebound the basketball."