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Cooper a winner in NBA coaching debut

DENVER (AP) -- Michael Cooper spent most of his first game as an
NBA coach sitting on the bench, hoping the nervousness he felt
inside wouldn't filter out onto the floor.

Apparently, Cooper learned a little about acting in all those
years in Los Angeles.

Carmelo Anthony had 24 points in his first game in two weeks and
the Denver Nuggets made Cooper a winner in his NBA coaching debut,
ending a six-game losing streak with a 97-92 victory over
Philadelphia on Friday night.

Cooper became the interim coach Tuesday after the losing streak
and a 13-15 start cost Jeff Bzdelik his job. The Nuggets didn't
look a whole lot different under Cooper -- good stretches followed
by horrible ones -- but certainly had plenty of energy.

Playing most of the game without three starters, Denver
scrambled and played just well enough on defense to win for only
the second time in 10 games. The Nuggets also stayed poised down
the stretch -- exactly what Cooper had hoped for with his sitdown
style.

"I was excited, but I tried not to show the team that I was
excited," said Cooper, who played and coached in LA for parts of
three decades. "As a player, I looked to the bench and if Pat
Riley was looking a little nervous it affected me on the floor. So
I tried to keep my composure so the players don't see me losing my
composure."

It worked.

Cooper pledged to make Denver better by focusing on defense --
his specialty in 12 seasons as a player. That philosophy was put to
the test right away against Philadelphia, which had scored 100
points in eight straight games, and Allen Iverson, who averaged 41
points in his past five.

It certainly didn't help that the Nuggets were without Kenyon
Martin (back) and Greg Buckner (groin), then lost center Marcus
Camby, the league's fourth-leading shot blocker, to a strained back
late in the first quarter.

Denver did its best without its three best defensive players,
scrapping to get out to Philadelphia's shooters and collapsing in
the lane. The Nuggets were at their best in the fourth quarter,
holding Iverson to four points and the 76ers to 5-of-14 shooting.

"Toward the end we clogged up the middle, we got out to the
shooters, we altered shots," Anthony said.

Philadelphia withstood Denver's early adrenaline rush and seemed
to be in control for most of the final three quarters before making
some key mistakes down the stretch.

The 76ers had 10 of their 23 turnovers in the fourth quarter and
Iverson had a rare off night with the game on the line, going
1-for-6 in the final quarter to finish 11-of-28. Marc Jackson added
15 points and Kyle Korver had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but it
wasn't enough to prevent the 76ers' five-game road winning streak
from ending.

"We had been doing a pretty good job of taking care of the ball
lately, but I don't think our decision making was very good
tonight," Korver said. "For whatever reason, we were playing like
we were tired."

Anthony certainly didn't seem tired after missing five games
with a sprained ankle. He was just 9-of-25 from the floor, but hit
key shots in the fourth quarter and added eight rebounds and four
assists.

He got some help, too. Nene had 16 points and 12 rebounds in
place of Martin, and DerMarr Johnson added 18 points and five
assists, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep
Denver close.

It still almost wasn't enough.

Denver took a 93-91 lead with 33 seconds left after Bryon
Russell charged in for an offensive rebound and hit two free
throws, then Iverson hit one of two free throws with 22 seconds
left. Johnson had a chance to put the Nuggets up three after being
fouled, but hit just one of two free throws.

Iverson then missed a scoop down the lane, and Denver's Andre
Miller went 1-of-2 with 8.1 seconds left to give the 76ers one
final chance. Korver's turnaround 3-pointer from straightaway was
online, but caromed off the back of the rim.

"We got the shots we wanted and the foul he (Iverson) wanted,"
76ers coach Jim O'Brien said. "At the end, Kyle got not a great
look but an adequate one, so we executed fairly well down the
stretch. It just didn't fall our way."

The coaching change certainly seemed to provide a spark in the
early going for the Nuggets. Swarming on defense and spreading it
around on the other end, Denver made nine of its first 10 shots and
held the 76ers to one field goal in the first 4½ minutes to open
with a 16-2 run.

The Nuggets just couldn't keep it going.

Denver had a hard time stopping Iverson, who scored 14 of
Philadelphia's first 16 points after missing his first three shots,
or anyone else after that. The 76ers closed the quarter with a 15-0
run, turning a 14-point deficit into a 28-25 lead.

Denver had just as much trouble offensively, missing its final
six shots and going 6:50 without a field goal until Anthony scored
on a hard drive at 10:15 of the second quarter.

Thankfully for Cooper, the Nuggets pulled it together at the
end.

"My stomach was turning," Cooper said. "I wasn't too
concerned if we had lost the game. I just wanted to play well. And
if you do that, then you've got something to build on."

Game notes
A moment of silence was observed before the game to honor
victims of the tsunami in South Asia. ... Miller was called for a
technical foul early in the second quarter for arguing an offensive
foul call. ... Iverson has at least one steal in his last 47 games,
dating to last season.