FOLLOWING yesterday's practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, 76ers forward Elton Brand wore a huge bag of ice around the back of his left hand and a menacing scowl on his face.

He certainly is not happy how this opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series with the Miami Heat has progressed. In the 21-point blowout in Game 2, Brand scored only three points, his lone field goal in five attempts coming on a goaltending call. His normal work station, that area 10 to 15 feet from the basket, was pushed to an uncomfortable location farther out, leaving Brand virtually nonexistent at the offensive end.

Brand, however, will correct that for Game 3. It's his way. He fights and claws for everything he needs to do to make himself and his team better. If his numbers don't improve throughout the series, it certainly won't be because the 12-year vet has given up in frustration. It's not in him to do that.

This was sort of a signature season for Brand. At 32, he is the elder statesman on a team filled with players who would have trouble growing playoff beards. He has been an All-Star, gotten big contracts, played in 800 regular-season games. Yet he is the player who runs to the bench when he's substituted for, who leaps to his feet when coach Doug Collins calls his name, who grabs one of the youngsters around the neck during a game and imparts his wisdom. And he is the one who adores the fact that his mother travels the country to see as many games as she can.

"He's a unique guy on a lot of levels," said Sixers assistant coach Quin Snyder, who recruited Brand to Duke when he was an assistant there. "He and I have a foundation that was built when he was around 18 and I was, like, 28. Seeing him now and watching him and how he carries himself makes me reflect back. He has always been able to connect with a lot of people. He's very bright, though he wouldn't be one to tell you that. He's got a great sense of humor and has a unique quality that allows him to interact with a lot of different people, and that defines a winner."

As a person, Brand is indeed that. He is a genuinely nice person. Some have said that when it comes to ball boys and locker-room personnel, no one is more appreciative (with the wallet). He knows, and maybe even appreciates, what the media's job is, often making sure they have what they need before he leaves the locker room.