More than wins and losses, what Doug Collins looked for from his team at the beginning of the season was growth. He wanted the Sixers to become better basketball players individually, then as a team. He wanted his players to believe in themselves, then each other.

Once all that was established, the coach thought, improvement certainly would be a byproduct.

To almost every player on the 76ers, that has happened, and after completing a tough five-game road trip with a 2-3 record, the team now stands at 36-34, in a dogfight with the New York Knicks for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and an outside possibility of catching the Atlanta Hawks (40-30), whom they host on Wednesday, for the fifth seed.

Collins is constantly trying to improve the individuals and the team. And the players have bought in.

Pretty interesting sight the other day in Los Angeles that proved the point, when forward Elton Brand, a 12-year veteran, had a long one-on-one session with assistant Quin Snyder. The two were working hard on moves to get Brand more open shots from his patented spot, about 10-to-15 feet from the basket.

"Coach is an active coach and his assistants have been great," Brand said. "This staff is the key to our success as a team, defensively and offensively. We're always learning, always learning. I'm 12 years in and I'm still learning. It's getting a different set of eyes and just a different mind-set because they're looking at it from a coaching perspective. As a coach, they see [opponents] are not allowing you to get to this spot because they know you're deadly from this spot. [Coaches show you] this is why they're playing you like this and this is why the guy is rotating this way.

"As a player, you just see guys coming at you. You don't know why they're coming, which way they're coming and how to counter it. But as a coach, they're reading all that stuff."

The session lasted for almost an hour, a true teacher-student interaction. Surprising to some that Brand still would be doing this after all his time in the league, but not to Collins.

"They are unbelievable. Every one of these guys are like sponges," Collins said. "They all want to get better. What Quin has done with E.B. . . . first of all, they have a great relationship, there's a real trust there.