AS A YOUNGSTER growing up near Toronto, Nik Stauskas wasn't into hockey. He didn't watch the Disney movies that most of his friends obsessed over. And he really didn't have any passion for the NFL.
His main interests were the NBA - and LeBron James.
"Growing up, I was probably the biggest LeBron fan in the world," Stauskas said. "Every year, my Christmas present would be to go to Cleveland to watch him play.
"I remember last year (as a Sacramento Kings rookie), that was probably the biggest deal to me, to go up against him. More than anyone else in the league, just because I looked up to him when I was growing up. It's cool for younger guys like me to have that opportunity to play against probably one of the greatest players of all time."
Stauskas might have that opportunity again on Monday as the 2-1 Cavaliers visit the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center. Stauskas, who saw his first action Friday after the entire preseason and season opener with a stress reaction in his right tibia, will be available again, and maybe for more than the 21 minutes he logged Friday. James has played in each of his team's games, but does have a balky back, so resting him might not be out of the question. But the Sixers are getting healthier every day.
Robert Covington, who sprained a knee in the final preseason game a little more than a week ago, returned to practice Sunday and is probable for the Cleveland game, though his minutes will be restricted.
With Covington and Stauskas getting back to full health, coach Brett Brown can now really start to implement the spacing on the floor he so desperately desires.
"(With them) you space it. You space it. I think any time you can have another legitimate scoring option, and really at times he's our best scoring option, it helps," Brown said of Covington. "Having him back will be a big boost, especially for our offense.
"I believe people are starting to know the name Robert Covington. There's a fluidness to his game and a beauty to his stroke. He shoots the ball just perfectly. Look at the rotation and arch on his ball. He's starting now to do different things - dribble, get a rebound and lead a break and he's starting to be able to guard people with more technique and certainly more pride."
Brown said that ideally, when Stauskas and Covington are fully healthy, they would start the game together, giving the team a formidable pair of shooters to surround Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. For an offense that has struggled mightily, that has to be a welcome sight for the coach and his players.
"Being out the past few games, I actually get a visual of what he has been talking about (as far as spacing the floor)," Covington said. "When you're out there, you don't see it from their perspective because you're out there playing and everything doesn't register as much as just sitting there watching. I get a better understanding of what coach is talking about and actually seeing ways to help do it. Coach is going to put us in the right positions and he's going to help us get better and get in the best spots.
"It's definitely going to help open up when you have two shooters that can get hot. You can't help off one. When the ball gets swung in our offense, there's so much that we can accomplish. It opens it up not just for us but for the bigs as well, giving space to really work it into the post. Once they get off and start double-teaming, then we swing the ball."
Perhaps the addition of two shooters makes the spacing easier. Maybe Okafor excels with the threat of outside marksmen surrounding him. And possibly Stauskas and his teammates can give LeBron a run for his money Monday.
"I had his All-Star jerseys, his Cavs jerseys, his Team USA jerseys, his high school jersey. I had everything," Stauskas said. "I'm an NBA junkie. I didn't watch other sports growing up. I had a lot of players that I looked up to, but LeBron was probably my favorite."
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