A decade later, NBA fans are still reaping the benefits of the 1996 draft, perhaps the strongest of all-time.
Guards Allen Iverson of Philadelphia and Ray Allen of Seattle were selected first and fifth respectively that year and have been lighting each other up ever since. They'll go head-to-head for the 34th time as pros Thursday night when the 76ers meet the SuperSonics at Key Arena.
Iverson has averaged 29.4 points, 6.4 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.2 steals when going up against Allen, including eight games of 40 points or more. Allen averages 22.5 points, 4.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals in the matchup, which includes Philadelphia's seven-game triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2001 Eastern Conference finals.
That's when Iverson outscored Allen, 44-26, in Game Seven -- one of the 24 times the former Georgetown Hoya has tallied more points than the ex-UConn Huskie. Iverson's advantage over Allen stems largely from his ability to draw fouls. He's 232 of 303 (76.6 percent) at the free-throw line compared to 108 of 125 (86.4 percent) for Allen.
Iverson's teams have won 20 of the 33 previous matchups, including a 107-98 triumph this season by the 76ers on Jan. 9 at the Wachovia Center. Iverson outscored Allen, 41-27.
Aside from the Iverson-Allen rivalry, the 1996 draft included Marcus Camby (No. 2), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (No. 3), Stephon Marbury (No. 4), Antoine Walker (No. 6), Kobe Bryant (No. 13), Predrag Stojakovic (No. 14), reigning MVP Steve Nash (No. 15), Jermaine O'Neal (No. 17) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (No. 20).
High-scoring forwards take center stage when the Celtics host the Nuggets tonight. Boston's Paul Pierce has averaged 27.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists against Denver's Carmelo Anthony in five previous meetings -- three of them (the last three) Nuggets victories. Anthony averages 20.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in the series.
If shot blocking is your fancy, the Utah Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko and the Heat's Alonzo Mourning go swat on swat Tuesday night in Miami. They've met just twice previously, each with five total blocks.
Going into the Olympic break, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky had 14 goals and half had come against the Dallas Stars, Thursday night's foe at the Staples Center. Visnovsky has 14 points and a plus-4 in six games against the Stars, the last five of which were Kings wins. Center Pavol Demitra loves the Stars as well, tallying three goals and eight assists so far. He's on injured reserve but could be activated any time.
The Buffalo Sabres play the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday night. Ottawa right wing Daniel Alfredsson (5-5), left wing Dany Heatley (5-2) and center Jason Spezza (1-6) have feasted against the Sabres in the first four games.
New York Rangers right wing Jaromir Jagr is at home against the Washington Capitals on Thursday and Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. Really at home. In 57 career games against the Caps he has 27 goals and 71 points; in 35 against the Leafs he has 25 goals and 49 points -- five goals and an assist in three games this season.