DENVER, Colorado, HOUSTON, SAN ANTONIO, Texas
When we last saw the 76ers before Christmas, there appeared to be cracks forming in their foundation, with whispered complaints that they weren't playing together.
But the Sixers reappeared Tuesday night for the start of their six-game Western road swing and made a statement for togetherness, especially the way Chris Webber and Allen Iverson shared the ball with their teammates and each other.
And it was capped when Iverson sank a 20-footer from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds to play, enabling the Sixers to get the long trip off to a great start with a 108-106 victory over the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.
With the score tied at 106-106 on Andre Iguodala's free throw with 48.5 seconds to play, the Nuggets brought the ball up court, but Earl Watson missed a three-point shot. The Sixers called a time-out with 21.0 seconds to play.
Iverson just held the ball between the midcourt and free-throw circles before starting his dribble against Andre Miller. With the shot clock winding down, Iverson raised up and drained the jumper to give him 36 points for the night.
The Nuggets called a time-out to set up one last play, but Watson missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Webber finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists, shooting 15 of 22 from the field, while Iverson added 10 assists.
Carmelo Anthony scored a career-high 45 points, the most scored against the Sixers this season.
The Sixers trailed by 85-80 early in the fourth quarter before taking control with a 13-2 run. They drained three straight three-point baskets to start the rally - one by John Salmons and two by Kyle Korver. When Iverson hit a jumper with 6 minutes, 59 seconds remaining, they held a 93-87 lead.
But the visitors didn't score for the next 3:20 and the Nuggets scored 11 straight points to take back the lead. Anthony highlighted the run by hitting all three free throws after being fouled by Samuel Dalembert shooting a three-ball, and then sank a driving layup on which Dalembert picked up his sixth foul.
Two free throws by Watson increased the Denver lead to 96-93. After a Sixers time-out, Iguodala shot an ill-advised three, and Anthony ran out for a layup at the other end for a 98-93 advantage with 3:55 remaining.
But the Sixers then scored on the next seven possessions. A steal by Iverson, who dove for a loose ball and then shoveled it to Salmons, resulted in an Iverson scoop layup to give the Sixers the lead again at 103-102 with 1:54 to play.
Iverson suffered a sprained right ankle early in the third quarter when he came down hard after missing a three-point shot. He stayed in the game and had the ankle retaped during a time-out later in the quarter.
The Nuggets played shorthanded Tuesday night. Kenyon Martin sat out the game with a right quadriceps contusion and Marcus Camby, the NBA's leading rebounder, left the game after six minutes after aggravating a sprained right pinky finger.
The Sixers led for most of the first three quarters but Anthony sparked a comeback late in the third, scoring 10 consecutive points at one stretch, including a three-point basket with 1:06 remaining that tied the game at 78-all.
Webber was the Sixers' main man on offense in the first half, hitting 11 of 13 shots from the field and scoring a game-high 22 points to lead his team to a 54-52 advantage at the break. Webber also led the Sixers in rebounds with six.
Iverson did a good job of setting up his teammates in the first two quarters, finishing the half with seven assists, but after making his first two shots of the game, he went 3 of 13 from the field for 14 points.
Anthony looked to go to the basket at will for the Nuggets. He connected on seven of 17 shots in the first half, with five dunks and two layups accounting for his seven field goals, and scored 17 points. He also had four shots blocked, two by Steven Hunter.
With Camby out, the Sixers established control on the boards, and held a 28-21 rebounding advantage over Denver in the first two quarters.
Before the game, coach Maurice Cheeks said that because of the mile-high altitude of Denver, the Nuggets usually try to push the basketball early in the game and try to get their opponents winded right away.
"I think every Denver team has been that way," he said. "In the beginning of the game, as the other team is trying to catch their breath, Denver is trying to get up and down on the fastbreak. The transition game is always a factor when you play here."
The Nuggets started out that way. Anthony slammed in Denver's first two baskets in the first 71 seconds and the Nuggets looked ready to try to run the Sixers out of the building.
But Webber matched Anthony basket-for-basket early. Each man scored his team's first eight points, with Webber converting a couple of Iverson passes for a dunk and a reverse layup.
Webber got his fifth basket at the 7:16 mark of the quarter and helped the Sixers to a seven-point lead, 16-9. The Sixers were to lead by seven on two other occasions in the first half.
Webber finished the first quarter making eight of his nine shots from the field, and his 16 points contributed to the Sixers' 27-25 lead at the buzzer.
Iverson, who had six of his assists in the first quarter, four on Webber baskets, came out firing in the second quarter. He hit a baseline jumper, a conventional three-point play, and a turnaround jumper over 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins to give the Sixers a 34-29 lead early in the period.
Matt Barnes provided some energy off the bench with three consecutive baskets to help the Sixers maintain the lead. A 6-0 run capped by slam-dunks from Webber and Iguodala gave the Sixers a 50-43 advantage with 3:42 remaining until halftime.
But foul trouble started to hurt the Sixers. Dalembert, who had four blocked shots and five rebounds in the first half, picked up his third personal at the 3:28 mark and Iguodala followed him to the bench with 2:21 remaining.
The Nuggets fashioned a 9-2 run to tie the game before Webber's tip-in provided the Sixers with their two-point advantage at the half.
Utah 82, Houston 74
Tracy McGrady left at halftime, so did the Rockets' offense.
Houston managed only 33 points in the second half - McGrady had 21 himself at halftime - and lost 82-74 to the Utah Jazz. McGrady went to the hospital where his fiancee gave birth to a son.
"No doubt, Tracy's one of the best players in the league," Utah's Andrei Kirilenko said. "We liked it when he was out."
So do all of Houston's opponents. The Rockets were 0-8 when their leading scorer was out with a back injury earlier this season and proved again Tuesday how bad they are without him - even if coach Jeff Van Gundy wouldn't blame McGrady's absence for the loss.
"We didn't lose because he wasn't there, we lost because we were inept offensively," he said. "We have professional players out there, so we have no excuses."
Already without the injured Yao Ming, Houston was 12-of-42 (29 percent) in the second half once McGrady had left.
San Antonio 99, Indiana 86
At San Antonio, Manu Ginobili came back after missing the last eight games with a sprained foot - where the Spurs went 5-3 - and he provided a spark.
Tony Parker scored 27 points and Duncan added 26 for the Spurs. Ginobili had only nine in 15 minutes, but most of them came at an important time. He scored five straight to spark a decisive 16-3 run late in the third quarter that turned a three-point deficit into a 73-63 lead.
"I came to the arena with a jacket on, so I didn't know if I was going to play or not," Ginobili said. "But I convinced (coach Gregg Popovich) to let me play. I thought that it was really important to get some confidence back."
In other NBA action: Charlotte 93, Atlanta 90; New Jersey 96, Cleveland 91; Miami 109, Milwaukee 98; Detroit 113, Toronto 106.