Iverson creates buzz for losing team

PHILADELPHIA -- We walk away from this one with three overriding thoughts regarding Allen Iverson's return to the Philadelphia 76ers:

• Iverson can still fill an arena, at least this one, and he brought a buzz to a Sixers game for the first time since, well ... since he made his return here with the Nuggets two years ago and kissed the center circle before tipoff, just as he did again Monday.

• Iverson can still play, he still has some quickness, but never again will he be the blur he once was on a night-in, night-out basis. Furthermore, in the team pecking order, he is not even the Sixers' most important A.I. Far from it, in fact.

• Iverson will help, but he's more of a Band-Aid than a panacea for a team in the midst of a deep slide, a Philadelphia squad whose losing streak reached double digits after it let Denver turn a close game into a blowout with a 17-0 second-half run that led to a 93-83 victory for the Nuggets.

And what did Iverson learn? What will he remember? Where is his game at?

We'll start by letting him speak for himself first.

"Myself, from the circumstances of not having been out there on the basketball court for a month, just having one day of practice and tying to learn everything on the fly, and playing that many minutes [38] after not playing at all, I'm proud of myself. I did the best I could. My heart said yeah, but my body said no. My legs were weak, my arms were weak, I was telling my teammates on one play I wanted to go baseline, I seen the opening, and my heart said yeah and my legs said no, and I just couldn't do it. So it's going to take some time," Iverson said.

Those comments came from a locker stall near a concrete pillar in the center of the Sixers' locker room, a long way from the cushy corner stall Iverson occupied for so many years but which is now the property of the Sixers' true best player, Andre Iguodala.

It was Iguodala who carried the load on offense for the 76ers with 31 points, and it was the Nuggets' aggressive trapping of Iguodala in the third quarter that took the Sixers away from what had been working for them offensively as they kept things tight through the first 36 minutes.

Option B once Iguodala was trapped was Iverson, and as the man said himself, his legs just weren't there.

We counted only two occasions all night in which Iverson took the ball hard to the bucket in traffic, drawing fouls both times, while there were at least twice as many occasions when his quickness manifested itself in sudden stops on drives that allowed him to pull up for a jumper or a fadeaway.

A couple of times that move worked for Iverson, who shot 4-for-11 and had 11 points, six assists and five rebounds. But late in the game, the Nuggets knew it was coming, and they attacked Iverson with something from Philadelphia's old bag of defensive tricks: Assigning a speedy young whippersnapper to shadow him, slap at him and harass him, which is what rookie Ty Lawson did. Lawson even recorded a blocked shot against Iverson (the second of Lawson's NBA career; the first was against Minnesota's Jonny Flynn) on an attempted jump shot, and it should not go unmentioned that Lawson (whose favorite Iverson memory from when he was just a wee lad was Iverson's crossover move on Michael Jordan during the 1996-97 season) absolutely toasted Iverson for an uncontested layup on an isolation play late in the game.

The Nuggets' 17-0 run took the charge out of what had been an electric evening at the Wachovia Center, where the Sixers have failed to capture the imagination of this city in the years since Iverson left -- even while they were making the playoffs the past two seasons but playing postseason games in front of thousands of empty seats.

Monday night's crowd was a sellout of 20,664, almost 9,000 more paying customers than Philadelphia averaged over its first eight home games. If we estimate (conservatively) that each of those 9,000 extra folks dropped 50 bucks apiece on tickets, parking and concessions, that means the Sixers pulled in about $450,000 more in revenue than they would have if this was a typical meaningless Monday night of malaise.

Or to put it another way, the Sixers made enough money in one night to cover a substantial portion of the prorated NBA minimum they are paying Iverson (a large chunk of that money comes out of a special league fund, not from the wallets of the Sixers' owners).

Every night from here on out, provided Iverson sticks around, means Iverson is producing a profit.

But as for the basketball, Philadelphia remains a team with a steep hill to climb to get back to the level it was playing at the past two seasons when Andre Miller was running the show. The Sixers weren't flashy, but they were good.

Now, they're measurably flashier. Better? That remains to be seen.

But the good vibes were an unmistakable positive.

"When it comes to any profession, and even with a marriage or a friendship or anything like that, both partners want to feel appreciated," Iverson said. "And that's the biggest thing. I feel like the fans here appreciate me, my effort and how I come to play every night, and that's all you want as a basketball player. So that was the best part of the night, just hearing these people's voices all over again.

"So it was bittersweet because I wanted to win so bad regardless if I played well or not, but we just got beat by a better team."

Indeed they did, leaving Philadelphia at 5-16 -- a record that reveals, at this point in the season, that there are 27 teams that are better than the Sixers.

And once the euphoria of this reunion wears off, there's still three-quarters of a season to learn whether Iverson can play together in the backcourt with Lou Williams, whether Marreese Speights can return from a knee injury to provide the frontcourt depth that's so sorely lacking, and whether the fans will keep coming and paying good money to see a player whose best years -- no matter how exciting he still can be -- are still a decade behind him.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.