Commentary

Brand hoping to rekindle Sixers-Celtics rivalry

Updated: October 9, 2008, 2:56 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Elton BrandJesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesBrand posted 11 points and four rebounds in his preseason debut with Philly.

AMHERST, Mass. -- He was so young the last time these teams hated each other, all Elton Brand knew was that his loyalties in the Boston-Philadelphia rivalry were with the 76ers because the blanket on his boyhood bed carried the likeness of Dr. J -- Julius Erving.

So many Eastern Conference rivalries have come and gone in the intervening 25 or so years, but the bitter feelings have lingered in the hearts and minds of Philly fans.

Brand knows this because he has already run into a bunch of them in his brief time with Philly -- an era that got off to a positive start Wednesday night on the campus of UMass as Philadelphia rallied in the fourth quarter of the preseason opener to defeat Boston 98-92.

Each of those fans had the same type of issue: lingering animosity, Brand said.

"Absolutely, absolutely. And not just basketball, but baseball, football. And we haven't won one in 25 years, while Boston got them in football, baseball, basketball. So our fans, they're starving for it. And a legit [Celtics-76ers rivalry] would be great for the league, kind of like Lakers-Boston, but it's the East Coast fighting again, because there's still a lot of carryover among the fans. I see fans now, OK, it's 20 years ago, but they're still coming out to the games, talking about how they remember Mo, and Dr. J, and this guy. But we've got to step it up. They're already the champions, and we've got to step it up and get to that elite level, and that would make it legit."

Philadelphia's signing of Brand over the summer was the big move the Sixers felt they needed to make to get to the elite level, giving them the low-post scoring threat they lacked -- and which, along with abysmal 3-point shooting, proved to be their demise after they took a 2-1 lead over the Detroit Pistons in the first round of the playoffs last season before dropping the final three games.

The Sixers are aiming to become an inside-out team, with the offense revolving around Brand -- although their debut appearance with him as the frontcourt anchor left plenty to be desired.

Brand finished 2-for-6 from the field for 11 points and four rebounds, but he turned the ball over four times and was locked down by Kevin Garnett, who brought a taste of midseason defensive intensity to this matchup of two teams playing their first exhibition games of the fall.

Credit for the victory belonged to Louis Williams, who scored 27 points in just under 27 minutes -- dominating his matchup with Eddie House in the decisive fourth quarter -- and Thaddeus Young, who added 21 points and five steals.

Low-post scoring wasn't the only bugaboo for the Sixers last season, and they addressed their other primary weakness -- outside shooting -- by signing Donyell Marshall and Kareem Rush while also sending Williams to Mark Price's shooting camp in Atlanta, where he estimated he knocked down 500 3-pointers each day during the four days a week when he was conducting workouts, learning to keep his shoulder square and his arm extended after releasing the ball.

The Sixers locked Williams up with a five-year, $25 million contract that could end up being much more cost effective than the five-year, $84 million deal Brand inked to leave the Los Angeles Clippers and resettle in Philly -- especially if Williams continues to outshine the big man in the same manner he did Wednesday night.

But Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks was in no mood to pick apart Brand's somewhat shaky performance -- he had two of his first four shots blocked and missed his one and only open look -- when he was matched head-up against Garnett.

"C'mon, this is his first game actually playing after being someplace else for a long time -- it's going to be a little different, it's going to take him a minute," Cheeks said. "In the first half I thought he still did well, the second half he got a little better, and I would expect each game he's going to get a little bit better. He's going to score and he's going to rebound the ball no matter what, and he's going to get more comfortable the more games he plays."

Heading into the season, a strong argument can be made that the Celtics will run away from the rest of the East, and the second-tier teams will spend their 82 games trying to see which of them -- Detroit, Cleveland, Orlando, Toronto and Philadelphia would seem to be the five favorites -- can be the runner-up. Four of those teams will be working in key new pieces -- Mo Williams with the Cavs, Mickael Pietrus with the Magic, Jermaine O'Neal with the Raptors and Brand with the Sixers -- while the Celtics have merely fine-tuned a lineup that didn't have all that many holes to begin with.

Cheeks would love to see the rivalry renewed, too, since he was one of the guys -- along with Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, Moses Malone and a young Charles Barkley -- who were banging and testing each other back in the day when the Boston-Philadelphia rivalry had a 20-plus year history and was the strongest in the league, not just the East.

"It was as good as it got in terms of rivalries, and I think rivalries were good for the NBA -- we had a healthy rivalry, and neither of us wanted to lose. When you were playing the Celtics, you were playing," Cheeks said. "We'd like to renew it, but they won the NBA title last year, and we're just trying to put ourselves in the position to get to where they are.

"So if there is a rivalry, that'll be good -- because that means we're contending with a team that won the NBA championship."

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.