Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Allen Iverson scored 38 points and dished out eight assists to lead the Nuggets past the Sixers.
Nuggets 109, Sixers 96 (F)
DENVER, Jan. 6 (AP) -- When Allen Iverson first played against the Philadelphia 76ers, he took shots at them before, during and after the game.
This time, he saved them just for the court, then showered his old team with praise that indicated he's gotten over the bitter split.
"They've got a lot of talent on that team. They've got a lot of guys that can do things, and they've got a lot of guys that care, guys with pride,'' Iverson said after scoring 38 points in Denver's 109-96 win Sunday night. "It could be easy for those guys to lay down. After I left, they could have just laid down. But that ain't the type of personality most of those guys on that team have. They want to win.
"I'm pretty sure they want to prove they can win without me. That's what they should do. I just hope they continue to play hard and play every game like it's their last. I just wish them well. ... I just want to see things get better for them.''
For the first time in his career, Iverson may have enjoyed watching the 76ers lose, but he swore he took no extra gratification in it.
"People ask that question all day, but my whole thing is to just win the basketball game,'' Iverson insisted. "If I had a big game and we didn't win I would be feeling terrible right now. I'm just happy we got the win. Like I said, it's just another basketball game, we went through that whole song and dance last year when they came in here. It wasn't any big deal to me. I just wanted to contribute.''
No big deal? Nuggets coach George Karl knows better.
"I don't know if there was an extra bounce, I just think it was a seriousness in his approach,'' Karl said. "He's been playing pretty good against other teams, too. I was happy for him to have a big night against his old team. In a lot ways we needed him to.
"We weren't very pretty offensively, and I thought his penetration at any moment broke their defense down quite frequently. He got a lot of easy layups because of it. It was a good part of our offense.''
Andre Miller, one of the players the Nuggets sent to the Sixers in exchange for Iverson, led Philadelphia with 22 points, including a jumper that erased the remnants of a 15-point deficit and tied it at 62.
Iverson answered with back-to-back 3-pointers and the Nuggets never trailed in staying a half-game ahead of Portland, which has lost just one of its last 17 games, in the Northwest Division.
Iverson's first game against his old team came just three weeks after his nasty 2006 divorce from the 76ers and he was still bitter at the time with the way coach Maurice Cheeks and team owner Billy King handled his complaints that led to his departure after a decade in Philly.
He scored 30 in that game last January but didn't stick around for the end, drawing an ejection in the final minutes of a 108-97 loss.
The Nuggets had already visited Philadelphia by the time they acquired Iverson, so his first trip back comes March 19, and Iverson isn't sure what to expect or whether it will be a more emotional experience for him than Sunday night was.
"Maybe. You don't know what the environment's going to be like,'' Iverson said. "I know it's going to be strange because I played there so many years and I fell in love with the fans there. I was a part of them, they were a part of me. It's obviously going to be different.
"The whole thing is just winning the basketball game. Doing whatever it takes. If you ask me how many points I was going to score tonight, I never know what I'm going to do. I never know how many points I'm going to score. If I didn't score anything I was going to do other things on the basketball court to help my team win. Fortunately, the ball was going in the basket tonight.''
Iverson had 15 points in the first quarter and 20 by halftime.
"Same Allen,'' Sixers forward Andre Iguodala said. "Great job when he is attacking the basket. Great job of creating some type of contact and getting to the foul line a lot. That's what he does. He seems happy. He is enjoying himself.''
Maybe so, but Cheeks said he didn't notice anything extra in Iverson's game - he's always going full-tilt anyhow.
"He can score when I had him. He can score now,'' Cheeks said. "That is his strong point. What he did tonight is no different than he did when he was here with us.''
Notes: Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points, including 19 to help the Denver build a 53-43 halftime lead. ... Anthony Carter tied his career high with 15 assists for Denver, and the Nuggets blocked a season-best 15 shots. ... Sixers rookie Jason Smith, who grew up an hour from Denver in Kersey, Colo., and attended Colorado State, stuffed