Jul 072010

July 7 Philadelphia Daily News

“Had 76ers forward Marreese Speights not fallen awkwardly to the floor during the 10th game of the season last year in Chicago, spraining the MCL in his left knee, who knows how bloated his offensive numbers might have been.

Later in the season, if you talked about Speights and mentioned the word bloated, it certainly wasn’t a reference to his numbers, as another knee injury stole more time and just about all the explosiveness he had early on.

During the first nine games before his injury, Speights was the primary big-man sub off the bench, and provided good scoring (13.8), rebounding (6.9) and shooting (54.4 percent).

But even before the injuries, Speights’ minutes were limited because of defensive liabilities. After the injuries, when his quickness evaporated and his waistline grew, defense was just a passing thought.

Speights, who will be entering his third season out of the University of Florida, knew things had to change. He is playing for the Sixers’ team in the AirTran Orlando Pro Summer League with a body that is slimmed down and a mind-set that is eager to learn from new coach Doug Collins.

“I’m coming in with a new situation and a new coach, knowing that I had to get my body weight down, knowing that I had to focus on certain things,” he said yesterday at the RDV Sportsplex before a game against Boston. “So I just wanted to come into the summer league with the attitude of I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”

And now he’s doing it. Despite shooting just 1-for-11 in the team’s first game Monday night, Speights’ foot speed looked quicker. He gathered three steals to go with seven rebounds, and stayed active on the defensive end even though his shots weren’t falling.

“Some people can dress it up, some guys can come out here and say they’re playing in the summer league just to please people,” said assistant coach Aaron McKie, who is coaching the team. “But with his progression, I think Marreese is starting to mature a lot. I think he understands we need him out on the floor. I think the biggest key for Marreese, and the thing we need to see, is for him to get out and guard his position and be able to get out and help the guards on the screen and roll. I think he’s been playing great defense down here.””

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