Philadelphia 115, Denver 113

PHILADELPHIA, March 19 (AP) - Allen Iverson had the ball in his hands and the game on the line, yet couldn't produce the ending he'd hoped for.

Iverson, playing in Philadelphia for the first time since being traded to Denver in December 2006, led all scorers with 32 points Wednesday night. But it was the 76ers who made the big plays down the stretch and spoiled their former MVP's return with a 115-113 victory over the Nuggets.

"I dreamed it up a certain way, and it was better than that,'' Iverson said. "Everything was perfect but one thing, and that was not winning the game.''

Iverson misfired on a 20-foot jumper and Marcus Camby missed a put-back in the final seconds as the Nuggets lost their second straight and failed to pick up any ground in their bid for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference.

"I almost had a perfect trip at my home away from home,'' Iverson said.

Samuel Dalembert scored the decisive basket with 32.9 seconds remaining. When Andre Iguodala lost possession of the ball as he fell, Dalembert was there to grab it and turned for a lay-in.

Andre Miller, acquired by the Sixers in the Iverson trade, scored 28 points on his 32nd birthday and the 76ers reached the .500 mark (34-34) for the first time since opening the season at 2-2.

Even in defeat, the night belonged to Iverson, who received a hero's welcome from the sellout crowd of 20,674 at the Wachovia Center.

All eyes were on the former 76ers star when he trotted out for pregame warmups. The ovation grew louder, and then Iverson made his way to center court, where he dropped down and kissed the 76ers logo.

The affection between the 2001 NBA MVP and the fans intensified throughout the pregame.

When Iverson was introduced, the fans showered him with raucous applause and a lengthy standing ovation. He worked the crowd by putting his hand to his ear and turning to each corner of the arena as the roar grew louder. The applause was only cut short by the introduction of the rest of the Denver lineup.

"It almost got to me,'' Iverson acknowledged. "It made me feel good. It made me feel appreciated.''

Just before the game started, Iverson trotted down the sideline to the Sixers' bench and embraced former coach Maurice Cheeks, the first time the two got together since he was traded 15 months before.

"It felt great for him to do that,'' the Sixers' coach said. "We didn't want to make a scene. I thought everyone was excited about it when it happened.''

Cheeks couldn't help but notice the reception for his former star.

"I got to watching him and got a little touched by it,'' Cheeks said.

While Iverson got the reception he had hoped for, the Sixers got the win.

"We knew it would be emotional,'' Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin said. "They didn't want to have a player come in and get the love, but lose the game.''

Iguodala scored 21 points, Dalembert added 17 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, including four in the last quarter. Willie Green added 16 points and Rodney Carney 11.

"That was like a playoff game out there,'' Cheeks said. "The game was just drama and I thought our guys handled it well.

"We're not in the playoffs yet, but we're trying to get there.''

Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points, Martin added 22 and Anthony Carter 12 for the Nuggets.

After opening the second half with a 10-point run, the Nuggets struggled with their shots at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth, going 0-for-15 in one stretch. Iverson ended the drought with 14-foot jumper with 7:10 remaining.

Nuggets coach George Karl was satisfied with his team's performance.

"Other than our defensive intensity in the first half, trying to outshoot a team playing with a lot of confidence hurt us,'' he said.

Iverson's impact was immediate as he fed Anthony for a game-opening 3-pointer and scored his first points on a 14-foot jumper at the 6:32 mark of the first quarter.

Iverson, who had 12 points and five assists in the first half, added nine points in Denver's third-quarter run.

Notes: The Sixers are 16-4 in their last 20 games and 10-1 in their last 11. ... The Nuggets move on to play the Nets in New Jersey on Friday. ... The 76ers travel to Orlando to take on the Magic on Friday night.

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