DENVER - What could have been a surprising start to the 76ers' five-game Western trip turned into just another lost opportunity Friday night.

The Sixers led the Denver Nuggets by 17 points midway through the third quarter, then gave it all back in the final 15 minutes, losing, 105-101, at the Pepsi Center.

Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups passed out of a trap to forward Kenyon Martin, who took one dribble and dunked the game-winning points with 9.0 seconds remaining. Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala subsequently was called for traveling.

The Sixers dropped to 12-17 and 3-3 under new coach Tony DiLeo. The team is staying in Denver through today before flying to Utah for the second game of its swing, against the Jazz tomorrow night.

After Utah, the Sixers play the Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs.

On Friday night, the Nuggets were without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. The Sixers pulled away by forcing 24 turnovers that led to 21 points. They shot 5 for 12 from the three-point arc after shooting 0 for 11 in their previous game, against the Boston Celtics.

But three-point defense, which has plagued the Sixers all season, haunted them again. The Nuggets finished the game 15 for 31 from beyond the arc. The Sixers also shot 18 for 30 from the free-throw line, giving away crucial points.

After the game, DiLeo and the rest of the Sixers said the game was a step in the right direction.

"We did some good things," said Iguodala, who finished with a team-high 24 points. "We played hard and we executed on both ends of the floor."

"We played solid the whole game," point guard Andre Miller said. "We did what we were supposed to do."

"I'm proud of our players," DiLeo said. "They played their hearts out."

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.