With his ego in check, a big man looks to fit in

Posted: January 25, 2009

Luckily for 76ers power forward Elton Brand, he said he doesn't have an ego. He said he did in his younger playing days - he's 29 now - but no longer.

If he did have an ego, it might have been tough watching the team he was supposed to anchor soar through the roof without him.

Today, Brand says he is about winning.

And, lately, Brand has watched a lot of winning: While he sat for 16 games with a dislocated right shoulder, the Sixers, after a 1-4 West Coast swing, went on a seven-game winning streak and finished 9-7.

Brand, who signed in July for $80 million over five years, hasn't played in a game since Dec. 17. Before his injury, the Sixers were 11-14; Brand was averaging 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

Sixers head coach Tony DiLeo has said Brand will initially come off the bench - and he did just that in last night's game against the Knicks. Brand said it's been a long time since he was in a "reserve" role.

Brand probably won't come off the bench for long, a handful of games at most, until the Sixers feel his body has acclimated to the pounding of an NBA game.

"I'm definitely proud of the team," Brand said of their recent performance. "I want them to win, I root for every game. I talked to coach and he says, 'Yeah, we played well without you the last few games, but the first six or seven we went 1-8, too, so we had a good stretch with you and a good stretch without you, and we're glad to have you back.' That felt good."

During the last month, Brand said he's watched the team, and better understands how they must play: with defense and running.

Although Brand is quick, bordering on defensive, in mentioning that the Sixers were in the NBA top three in fast-break points before his injury, he acknowledges his absence produced a shift in gears.

"I think I saw the defensive intensity really pick up and that led to fastbreak points," Brand said. "That's what I really learned ... I just want to plug right in and keep getting the guys open looks.

"Once I'm out there, for however many minutes, I have to go right out there and play excellent defense and get us out on the break and keep going," Brand explained.

Last summer, when the addition of Brand was the mythical golden key that would unlock a playoff treasure for the Sixers, the talk was of the double-teams Brand would command, and of the open shooters created by this attention.

But, so far, that crucial component hasn't materialized. The reasons include Brand's poor passing out of those double-team situations, half-court sets with more standing than passing, and downright bad three-point shooting. With Brand, the Sixers were last in the NBA in three-point shooting.

Brand has watched that number creep from under 30 percent to where it is now, 33.5 percent. Regarding that outside shooting, Brand said teammate Lou Williams said something that stuck with him.

"He said he was getting the same shots as when I was on the court, they just weren't falling," Brand said. "Now they're falling."

Brand also said small forward Andre Iguodala has been "playing amazing," which inevitably leaves you wondering whether there is enough room on the court for both. Iguodala likes slicing to the hoop precisely where Brand likes to post up.

Brand, though, restated that his ego never made the trip to Philadelphia from Los Angeles, where he played for the Clippers.

"Yeah, it's like, you can't really have an ego," Brand said. "When we first started, they compared us to the really good teams. You look at the last year; I don't think the other players get mad when Ray Allen scores big and they win. Or Paul Pierce scores big and they win. ... And that's the mind-set I have and that's the mind-set we have to get to as a team."

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.

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