THIS IS ABOUT tomorrow night, when the 76ers host the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is about - who else? - LeBron James.
Don't think you can win by pushing him to his left . . .
That, the 76ers' Donyell Marshall says, doesn't necessarily work.
"A lot of people want to push him to his left hand, but don't realize that he actually is lefthanded," Marshall was saying after practice yesterday at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Marshall's insight comes from two seasons-plus as James' teammate, including the Cavs' 2007 drive to the NBA Finals. How much that helps the 9-12 Sixers as they face them twice this week, including Friday night in Cleveland, remains to be seen. There isn't much that has helped opponents so far this season, with the Cavs taking a 17-3 record into tonight's game against the Toronto Raptors.
But you have to try, don't you?
"He's big, he's strong . . . he can use both hands very well," Marshall said of James, who was averaging 26.5 points, second-best to the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade (28.9) through 20 games. "He can post up, he sees the floor very well, and that's what makes him so difficult to guard. He studies a lot of game film. He pretty much has a lot of defenses thrown at him, and he's very successful against most of them."
You can argue whether James or the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league, but you can't get Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks to choose a side.
"I don't like to put these guys in [rankings]," Cheeks said. "If you can get higher than very, very, very high . . . he's high. C'mon, I'm not giving numbers. I'll just say [James is] top two, whoever that [other one] is. I can't go wrong there, right?"
What Cheeks sees in James is similar to what he has seen in great players through his own playing and coaching careers: strength, an ability to get to the basket, a force of will.
"All those great players had that will," Cheeks said. "I think he's one of those guys that has the will to want to win and do all the things it takes to take this team to another level. All those great players have it."
Don't ask Sixers forward Elton Brand to choose between them as prospective teammates, either.
"[James and Bryant] are very different players," Brand said. "LeBron is more of a power player, but he loves to pass the ball. Kobe's more of a finesse player, and he loves to score."
"I'd have to really do more research," Brand said diplomatically. "They're both really good."
Don't think you can definitely, positively, absolutely push him to New York . . .
Full disclosure: We didn't make this the primary focus of this story because whatever might happen can't happen until the summer of 2010.
Fact: James can become an unrestricted free agent that summer.
Fact: He loves playing in Madison Square Garden.
Fact: Several teams, most prominently the Knicks, are clearly trying to create cap space to try to lure, among others, James, Wade and the Raptors' Chris Bosh.
"A lot of people are making too much hype of it," Marshall said. "He still has to play this season, He still has to play next season. A lot of things can happen between now and then. Anything's possible. You never know what the situation's going to be.
"I'm sure he's not worried about it. Matter of fact, I know he's not worried about it. He's concentrating on the Cavs right now. If he wasn't concentrating on the Cavs they wouldn't be playing as well as they are.
"I think [all the hype] is disrespectful to the Cavs and it's disrespectful to him. I also kind of think it's a little disrespectful to the New York people, too. You're going to get those guys all excited, and if something happens where he doesn't go, you've got all these people clearing cap room . . . [What happens if] all those [free agents] stay with their teams? You'll have all these teams with all that cap room with nothing to do with it."
Don't think he isn't listening to anything that might help him and his team . . .
"He's a great teammate," Marshall said. "We talk all the time. Our kids played together; our families hung out a lot. We still talk now. The good thing about him is, even though we're on different teams, I can still call him and critique his game. He doesn't take it personally. He calls me and critiques my game. Even when he was in China [with] Team USA I would text him and tell him what to do. He'd always text me back and say, 'OK.' "
Practice? Marshall says James is heavily into it.
"A lot of people don't understand: Le-Bron's a big kid," Marshall said. "A lot of times [in practice] he's laughing, joking, coming at you talking trash. The reason why their bench is so good is, he talks a lot of trash [to the reserves]. They want to win in practice. They want to shut him up. He pouts in practice if the second unit beats the first unit. He gets mad. We used to try to take it at him. We used to like it when he got mad.
"He is the leader of the team, but he also knew that he needed help. He really respected me, Eric Snow, Larry [Hughes], Damon [Jones]. He knew he was the captain and the leader and the main guy, but he really respected the bumps and grinds we've been through in our careers."
And, as with all great players, James can take seemingly innocent things and transform them into motivation. Case in point: Marshall, who grew up in Reading, is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. James, who grew up in Akron, Ohio, is a Dallas Cowboys fan. When the Steelers defeated the Cowboys on Sunday, Marshall briefly considered sending James a text message.
"I was going to text him," Marshall said, "and then I didn't because I knew if I texted him, he would take it out on the Sixers." *
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