Asked Monday who would guard Cleveland's LeBron James tomorrow night, 76ers coach Maurice Cheeks smiled wryly and said ''All three of them.'' He didn't name names.
Asked about that today, Cheeks said ''I could've said all five of them.''
But which three?
This time, Cheeks laughed openly and said ''I meant three at one time.''
That's the sort of anticipation James brings. He appears to be playing better than ever and the Cavaliers are 17-3 with eight straight victories going into tonight's game against the Toronto Raptors. They're not just winning games, they're winning by an average of 13.3 points.
Looking at game tapes, Cheeks said somne opponents ''have had the success of doubling (James) and making him pick the ball up. We know he's a fabulous passer; when he ctaches the ball, he's not only catching it to score, but he's catching it to make other people better. They have a lot of shooters around him. You have to pick your poison, decide whether to allow LeBron to play one-on-one or allow him to kick the ball to different shooters. We knew he was going to get better; he's been good ever since he's come into the league.''
But, about who draws the defensive assignment . . .
It's likely to be Andre Iguodala at the start, followed by Thaddeus Young and . . . maybe . . . Willie Green. Cheeks even mentioned Reggie Evans, probably because Evans has the sheer physical strength and an ability to, one way or another, be distracting.
''(James) is just strong; he just has a massive body,'' Iguodala said. ''He does a good job of overpowering guys to the basket.''
And then Iguodala allowed himself a touch of biting humor, saying ''You can't touch him, either.''
All you can do is try and force him toward help, and, Iguodala said, ''Like any other player, you want to make him take as many contested jump shots as possible. That's pretty much all you can do, try to make him work for everything. The main thing is to make the game tough for him, not let him get easy buckets, not give him too many open looks, not let him get to the basket too many times, making him work a little extra.''
Young had a turn against James last season.
''He cleared everything out and he was laughing when he was dribbling the ball,'' Young recalled. ''I was like 'Oh man, I must be a rookie for real.'''
But . . . ''He didn't score on that play.''
Nor did Young say a word about it.
''No,'' he said emphatically.
He was reminded about James listening to some front-row flak from Chris Bosh's girlfriend in Toronto, and how James took it out on the Raptors.
''I'm not going to get in none of that with him,'' Young said, shaking his head.