At the risk of equivocating, there are two ways to view the first half of the 76ers' season. On the one hand is their body of work: a 20-14 record, good enough for first place in the Atlantic Division by three games over the New York Knicks. Pretty good.

On the other hand, they're in the midst of a season-long, five-game losing streak and have dropped seven of their last nine. Not so good.

Two of the more important issues facing the team right now are the health of Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Brand has missed four games with a right thumb sprain that may not heal properly until some time over the summer, when he can avoid basketball contact. Nonetheless, reasonable expectations suggest Brand will return shortly after the break, trying to contribute what he can on this, the back side of his career.