Commissioner David Stern and the NBA office must be very thankful for Doug Moe and the Denver Nuggets. Otherwise, they might have had to name Frank Layden as the NBA Coach of the Month for March.

The Nuggets lost twice to the Jazz but had an excellent month they were 12-6 overall and 6-2 on the road, including a win over the Lakers, and played their way into the Midwest Division race. The Jazz (11-5) had their most wins ever for March and joined Boston (11-4), Chicago (10-4) and Detroit (11-5) as one of the best teams of the month.Of those teams' coaches, only Layden caused the NBA to fine his owner $10,000 by talking about NBA referees. If the Jazz had won another game or two and the Nuggets had lost instead of won at the buzzer in the Forum, the league office would have faced an interesting dilemma.

By the way, just where is the no-comment rule found? "It's written down somewhere," assures the Jazz's Mark Eaton, "although I've never seen it."

The book is the NBA's Operations Manual, distributed to all teams; Layden, for the record, does not carry a copy. The official text: "An employee or other person associated with the club, including owners or management, who publicly criticizes game officials, will be considered to be acting in a manner prejudicial and detrimental to professional basketball and subject to a substantial fine, suspension or both."

Two observations: 1) Fair or not, the rule is clear and Layden knows better, because he and the Jazz have been fined before. Nothing he said in the incriminating interview in Denver was terribly offensive; then again, he opened by saying, "Your column will get me fined, but I don't care." 2) Ten thousand dollars? That's substantial, all right. Does Stern figure he can make owner Larry Miller angry enough to fire Layden and rid the NBA of its chief rebel? Hey, Layden would just surface in Miami or someplace and speak his mind again, wouldn't he?

ADD AWARDS: The Jazz's John Stockton has to be a strong candidate for the NBA Player of the Month award again. In February, Stockton won after averaging 15.5 points and 15.6 points and shooting .586 from the field.

Not bad . . . but he was better in March, averaging 17.9 points and 15.4 assists and shooting an amazing .669.

ROBERTS' RISE: Presenting . . . Fred Roberts' annual career game. All Fred does with nights like Wednesday's against Houston is make people in Boston wonder why he doesn't do it all the time.

With Kevin McHale suffering a 2-of-14 shooting night, missing his first 12 shots and dropping to 60 percent for the season, Roberts checked in with these numbers: 21 minutes, 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal.

After opening the season as a starter in McHale's absence, Roberts has a more prominent role after spending much of the year on the bench. "It has been a while since I've been able to contribute to this team," Roberts told the Hartford Courant. ". . . For a while, I was worried about foul trouble. Then I asked myself, `Why? What difference does it make if I get in foul trouble?' So that enables me to be more aggressive."

Said Danny Ainge after the 117-110 win, "Fred saved us. He bailed us out."

Roberts fell short of his 23 points and 12 rebounds against Milwaukee last season in his first two weeks as a Celtic, but this outing was probably more important. It's closer to contract-talk time, and Roberts will be a free agent. He had only two points against Detroit Friday, though.

NUMBERS GAME: From Harvey Pollack, the Philadelphia statistics legend, we bring you the latest from the boxscores: The Jazz's Karl Malone is on a career-high pace for technical fouls with 16 this year, but Philly's Charles Barkley already has the season title wrapped up with 27. Malone still has more Ts than any coach; New York's Rick Pitino led with 14 through last week. Kevin Loughery, fired by Washington Jan. 4, is still tied for fourth place among the coaches with 10 . . . Of players who report every night for the opening tip, Patrick Ewing (35-20) held a narrow lead over the Jazz's Eaton (34-20) in winning tips through February . . . The Jazz, among the league's worst free-throw shooting teams, own the single-best performance (minimum 30 attempts). They were 34 of 35 against San Antonio Jan. 22. Layden missed that game. That means the Jazz's shooting is his fault, after all, right?

QUOTABLE: The Lakers' Mychal Thompson, after Malone dunked over him Tuesday: "It was like watching a runaway freight train coming at a 200-year-old barn. If that barn gets in the way, you know what's going to happen. There's going to be nothing left but toothpicks."