Former Philadelphia 76ers star World B. Free, who is now a team ambassador, helps children from the Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City place the Sixers' "50 Seasons in Philadelphia" logo decal onto the Boardwalk Hall court Thursday in Atlantic City. The 76ers will play a preaseason game against the Brooklyn Nets at the hall tonight.

Philadelphia 76ers photo

The Philadelphia 76ers reawakened their fan base with a thrilling playoff run last season.

Tonight, the team will renew its connection with Atlantic City.

The 2012-13 76ers will make their tri-state debut at 7 p.m. today when then they meet the Brooklyn Nets in a preseason game at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

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"I think it's going to be fun," 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday said of the upcoming season during the team's media day earlier this month. "We always have expectations, but people have to look at us as one of the contenders now."

Tonight's game - billed as the Boardwalk Classic - is Philadelphia's first appearance in Atlantic City since Oct. 8, 1983, when it beat the then-New Jersey Nets 117-113 in a preseason game.

Philadelphia has a long connection to Atlantic County. The 76ers held training camp in Margate from 1964-66. The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers are considered to have been one of the best teams in NBA history, finishing 68-13 in the regular season and winning the league title.

The 76ers couldn't have timed their return to Atlantic City any better.

Interest in Philadelphia is higher than its been in years because of the success the team had last season and the offseason acquisition of 7-foot center Andrew Bynum.

Local sports fans had overlooked the 76ers since they lost in the 2001 NBA finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. Fans had turned their attention to the more successful Flyers, Phillies and Eagles.

"When I came here, our reputation wasn't as positive," said 76ers forward Spencer Hawes, who joined Philadelphia in 2010. "It's fun to have that buzz about the team and organization."

The 76ers created that buzz last season by finishing above .500 (35-31) for the first time since 2004-05. They made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2003, losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

And Philadelphia didn't rest on those achievements.

The 76ers almost completely overhauled their roster. Only five players remain from last season. The 76ers acquired Bynum - one of the NBA's best big men - from the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team trade in the summer. The biggest disappointment about tonight's game is that Bynum will not play as he is still recovering from a September procedure on his knees.

The offseason moves only made Philadelphia even more intriguing.

How will coach Doug Collins blend the familiar names - Holiday, swingman Evan Turner and forward Thaddeus Young - with the newcomers?

The 76ers should be bigger and stronger than they were last season with 6-11 Kwame Brown, 7-1 Hawes and Bynum.

Philadelphia surrounds those post players with accurate outside shooters such as Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright and Nick Young.

But gone is mainstay Andre Iguodala, who was traded to the Denver Nuggets as part off the Bynum deal.

"There's a lot of new faces," Holiday said. "When I first heard about everything, I was kind of shocked because of what we did last (season). These are big changes and it looks like for the best, too."

In the Nets, the 76ers meet another team that underwent an offseason makeover.

The team moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn. The Nets re-signed standout point guard Deron Williams and signed free-agent shooting guard Joe Johnson. Tonight will be the Nets' preseason debut.

Meanwhile, the 76ers opened the preseason with a 102-95 road win over the Orlando Magic on Thursday as Holiday sank 12-of-14 shots and scored 27 points.

During an August news conference to announce tonight's game, 76ers and Boardwalk Hall officials talked about having Philadelphia make an annual preseason visit to Boardwalk Hall.

Atlantic City appearances have been a sign of good fortune for the 76ers.

In addition to winning the 1966-67 championship after training in Margate, Philadelphia also played a preseason game at Boardwalk Hall in 1982 - the last season the team won the NBA title.

The 2012-13 76ers like to think of themselves as championship contenders.

"Every year around this time - no matter what team - there's always optimism from the players, the coaches, the general manager," Hawes said. "Sometimes it's warranted and sometimes it's not. But with the group of guys here we have here, I think we do have a lot of potential. This is an opportunity for us to go out and try to prove it."

Contact Michael McGarry:


Boardwalk Classic:

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets

When: 7 p.m. today; TV: None

Where: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City

Tickets: $10-$150.


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