NEW YORK, March 4 -- 'Tis the season to stay healthy.

But Randy Ayers, former head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers says that is tougher than it looks during a long season.


Ayers

"The biggest thing about the East are injuries," Ayers said. "Everybody has nagging injuries at this time of year, but the teams that can get fairly healthy will be the teams that make the strides down the stretch."

Ayers notes that often adrenaline takes over at this time of year.

"When you're fighting for a playoff spot, you're going to have a little bit of extra energy every day in practice," Ayers said. "You'll be willing to get out and practice and work harder. A good example of that is New York.

"They have some good personnel and they're trying to stay in the mix."

Another team trying to stay in the mix are the Sixers, who are 11th in the Eastern Conference, 1½ games out of the final playoff spot. The road to the postseason doesn't get any easier as the Sixers host the Kings on Thursday (7:30 ET, TNT).

We talked to coach Ayers about the Sixers, the Eastern Conference playoff race and the Pistons and Rasheed Wallace, who returns Thursday to Portland after seven-plus seasons there (10 ET, TNT).

Q: Coach, what can the Sixers do to make a move in the Eastern Conference playoff race?


Iverson needs to stay healthy for the Sixers' playoff hopes.
Garrett Ellwood
NBAE/Getty Images

Ayers: "They need to get Allen Iverson and Glenn Robinson back to playing well. Iverson is the key and they need to get him back healthy. He's had a couple nagging injuries with the knee and the shoulder and hopefully those things are cleared up. They need for him to be good down the stretch to make a run for the playoffs."

Q: He got pretty beat up against the Knicks on Wednesday. Is there any way for them to avoid that?

Ayers: "I don't think so. People are going to try to put him into a lot of screening situations, make him defend and make him work hard at that end of the floor. That's always been the philosophy in playing him. He works so hard offensively that you have to make him work on defense and I think that's held true over the years."

Q: You've mentioned how bench players are important for the stretch run. How will they help the Sixers?

Ayers: "I think it's important because at this time of year, everybody is banged up and you need some energy off the bench. I think the young guys,Kyle Korver and Willie Green, have gotten a lot of minutes this year, and I think that's going to help them down the stretch. They won't be afraid to go in and try to make plays. They're not worried about that because now they feel comfortable playing in this league and they have the confidence they can play at this level."

Q: Recently, the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace. You were an assistant to coach Larry Brown, how will coach Brown work Wallace in with Detroit?

Ayers: "The first thing is Rasheed understands the philosophy. Both have a North Carolina background. He's going to understand the philosophy and the terminology that coach will be using every day. That's a plus.


Wallace gives Detroit another solid defender.
Jesse D. Garrabrant
NBAE/Getty Images

"Then Rasheed is the type of guy coach Brown will move around. He can pick and pop and extend the defense. He can also be a threat down low on the blocks. I think he's a guy who gives them more athleticism. He's long and that should help as well, but the key is he'll be comfortable with the philosophy and the terminology on a daily basis."

Q: With Wallace, Ben Wallace, Mehmet Okur and Tayshaun Prince, the Pistons have one of the longer front lines in the East. How will this help them?

Ayers: "They're long and they're active. Rasheed helps them become more active. You can't let people get to the rim in this league. It's hard enough when you have people posting you up every time or guys dribble penetrating all the time, but with that front line, they keep people away from the rim."

Q: How would you rank Rasheed as a defender?

Ayers: "He's a solid defender. He's long enough, he can block shots and he can guard two or three positions, depending on who's playing the three spot. And when you put him next to a great defender like Ben Wallace, that makes him even more of a threat at that end of the floor."

Q: How much did the acquisition of Rasheed help the Pistons in their push for the playoffs?

Ayers: "I think it helped them quite a bit. It gave them a quality player, a player who is highly thought of around the league. I think he brings a lot of credibility to the Pistons."

Q: Much has been made about his temper. Do you think it will be a problem in Detroit?

Ayers: "I don't think so. Detroit did their homework on him. They understand his background and I think he'll work well with coach Brown."

Q: Outside of the top three -- Detroit, Indiana and New Jersey -- who else will put up a fight for playoff spots?


Despite a heavily bandaged hand, Artest should make a difference for the Pacers.
Andrew D. Bernstein
NBAE/Getty Images

Ayers: "You have to look at New Orleans. By getting Jamal Mashburn back and getting David Wesley back into the mix and starting to get his legs. To me, at the end of last year, they were one of the best teams in the league, it just happened that they have some untimely injuries.

"So, I look at New Orleans and Milwaukee has some young legs. They can do some things. Michael Redd has certainly had a great year, but T.J. Ford has to get back into the mix for the Bucks. He's been a big part of their success."

Q: Speaking of injuries, what does it do for the Pacers to see Ron Artest back in the lineup?

Ayers: "He's an All-Star caliber player. He's going to give them some consistent play. He'll defend well every night. To me, they've been the most consistent team in the East. They haven't had a lot of extended injuries, so getting Artest back will make them more of a threat. And I look at them as one of the teams you have to beat to come out of the East."

-- Rob Peterson, NBA.com

NBCA Coach's Corner archive:
Jan. 23: Brian Hill on the Pacers
Jan. 16: Bill Berry on the Lakers
Jan. 5: Lenny Wilkens on Cleveland's improvement
Dec. 23: Casey on Houston's offense
Dec. 18: Casey on the Wolves' and Mavs' zone defenses
Dec. 11: Casey on Detroit's "diagonal cuts"
Dec. 5: Don Casey on Sacramento's "Princeton offense"