Is there anyone playing better basketball, anywhere, than Allen Iverson?
"I've never seen him play better," Boston basketball boss Danny Ainge said. "Right now, he's the best player in the conference."
After an 0-3 start, the Sixers ripped off six straight wins and entering last night led the mighty Atlantic Division by 1 game. (OK, two of the wins were over Toronto.) Iverson has been a certifiable beast in this stretch, to the point where he entered last night ranked first in the league in scoring, first in minutes, second in steals, and fifth in assists.
"He sure looks on top of his game to me," offered Toronto assistant Jim Todd, who saw Iverson on back-to-back nights last week. "You know he has seen every defense under the sun and yet he still manages to get his shots and get his points. From the two times we saw him, it looks to me like he's being more of a leader on the floor and keeping his teammates into it."
We all wondered how Iverson, Chris Webber, and Mo Cheeks would manage this season. While Webber is the latest big name to lay claim to being Iverson's lieutenant, he has something the others (Glenn Robinson, Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Van Horn, Larry Hughes) did not: He can play off the ball, pass, rebound, and doesn't need to compete with Iverson for points and attention. That's fine with Webber, who was so miserable after last year's brief Philadelphia experience that he probably will petition the NBA to remove the year from his resume (but not his pension).
"Webber seems to be much more comfortable," Todd said. "Allen and [Kyle] Korver are looking for each other. They all look for Webber. Allen has found a way to keep everyone involved."
So what's different this year?
"He is playing at a high level mainly because he and Chris had a training camp together," said Sixers president Billy King via e-mail. "Maurice [Cheeks] also is playing him more at off guard, and Andre [Iguodala] and Kyle and Johnny [Salmons] have taken some offensive pressure off them."
Well, maybe some of the pressure. Iverson still lit up the Raptors for 42 points Wednesday, the 60th time in his NBA career he has gone for 40 or more. That same night, he went over 17,000 career points, making him one of four active players to reach that level. The others are Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton, and Cliff Robinson.
In the first 10 games, Iverson led the Sixers in scoring every time. He's also continuing to get to the line, averaging 10 made free throws per game. (By comparison, Paul Pierce averaged a shade more than seven makes per game over the Celtics' first eight games.) In the first 16 days of the season, Iverson had made 90 free throws. No one else among the top 40 scorers had made even 60.
Philadelphia makes its first appearance in Boston Nov. 30.