THE TALK of the NBA offseason, of course, was "The Decision."

While many of us were nauseated by the overkill of what team free agent LeBron James would choose, it was undeniably the biggest offseason story in a very, very long time – no matter the sport.

James, of course, is down in Miami, having joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form the NBA's newest version of a Dream Team.

It won't take long for the 76ers and Philadelphia fans to get an upclose look at the threesome as they will visit the Wells Fargo Center tomorrow night. It will be the season opener for the Sixers. The Heat opens tonight in Boston.

While coach Doug Collins was still trying to decide on a starting five as of yesterday's practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, the Heat seem primed to make a run at a record season. How about come tomorrow night, Sixers swingman Jason Kapono, expected to be in the starting lineup, will be matched up defensively with Heat point guard Mario Chalmers?

That kind of shows a bit of the gap between the teams.

"Well, we definitely get one out of the way right away," forward Thad Young said, laughing. "But it's definitely cool playing against them. You're playing the new big three now. At first, the Big Three was [Boston's] Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and K.G. [Kevin Garnett]. Now it's LeBron, Wade and Bosh. It's definitely a big challenge, but we'll go out there and play hard and meet the challenge and look to get a win. They've got to come off a tough game before playing us, so we've got to try to take advantage of that."

Some might think this game wouldn't be a challenge even if the Heat had played the Celtics before the Sixers on the same day. And that could be true. That is how far this organization is away from not only the Heat, but also from the NBA's other upper echelon teams.

"LeBron, Wade and Bosh," Collins said, laughing, "that's going to be a formidable task, to say the least. The one thing about those guys is that they have great chemistry, because they played together in the [2008 Beijing] Olympics. So it's not like you've just thrown three super-duper players together for the first time. And they're all three very, very smart basketball players and they're winning players. The time that it would take for them to gel would be much less. I think when you see these guys join forces, they do so to have a chance to win championships. I think they know they've all gotten every individual award there is, they got the gold medal in the Olympics, and so I think their next prize now is having their eyes on being NBA champions."

That is something this current group can only dream about. For now, the goals are much more simple - like learning to play well together and being able to be a formidable opponent night in and night out.

"This is the hardest job I've ever had," Collins said. "It's the biggest challenge I've faced. But I don't back down and I know that my players won't either. It's going to take time, but we'll continue to get better throughout the season."

He has a believer in Young.

"Everyone that has ever played under coach has improved," Young said. "We all know that, and we all know that we can go out there and improve and become a big part of this team and a big part of us improving as a whole."

It starts tomorrow night.

Six shots

Forward Andre Iguodala, nursing a sprained right wrist, sat out yesterday's practice. Said coach Doug Collins: "He should be [ready for the opener]. I expect him to be OK. His wrist is better. We didn't want him to get banged today. Dre is in great shape. So, hopefully, he can get in some running [today]" . . . When asked who will start tomorrow night, Collins laughed: "I don't even know who I'm starting based on who's going to even be available to play" . . . It appears that center Spencer Hawes (strained lower back) will be ready tomorrow night and should be in the starting lineup . . . Limited tickets for the game remain. It is the only visit by the Heat this season. *

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