SALT LAKE CITY - They have been a 36-minute team in a 48-minute NBA. They are runners, drivers, rebounders and (sometimes) cutters in a league that also requires shooters. Too often, they become defensively stationary in a league that demands movement, quickness, focus and concentration on rotations.

They are the 76ers, holding a three-game losing streak, trying to glean something positive from the agony of blowing a 17-point third-quarter lead and losing to the Denver Nuggets on Friday night and trying mightily to prepare not just for the Utah Jazz tonight, but for five of their next six games on the unforgiving road.

Things, then, aren't about to get any easier. The Jazz is 11-4 at home, and even the 8-20 Los Angeles Clippers, a miserable 3-12 at home, suddenly loom as a New Year's Eve challenge.

"We're playing better," coach Tony DiLeo said before leaving Denver. "We don't have anything to show for it the last three games, but we see a lot of good things. The [Nuggets] game was a tough game to lose, a killer game to lose. There's nothing we can do about it now but to learn from it and try and do better."

One team's misery is another team's celebration.

"The thought that comes to my mind is, bad teams lose games they're supposed to win and good teams win games they're supposed to lose," Nuggets coach George Karl told the Rocky Mountain News. "There's always a couple games during the year that you always look back on in a positive way that helped your season. I think this one will be on that list."

Karl wasn't bashing the Sixers; he was stating a truism. The 12-17 Sixers have struggled to finish games. They are at their best when they get in the open court, but they haven't been able to sustain that aspect of their game. They have struggled to defend the three-point line, but they deserve something of a pass from this game because the Nuggets' J.R. Smith - who dropped in four of his seven triples in the fourth quarter - seemed to be launching some of his attempts from, oh, Colorado Springs.

The Sixers led by 17 points with 4:13 left in the third quarter and by 11 going into the fourth. They still held a seven-point advantage with 5:28 remaining.

"Denver had nothing to lose, 17 down," DiLeo said. "They were just firing shots; it was their only way to get back in. They got momentum. They started, and we couldn't stop them."

The Sixers gave up the lead for good on a driving dunk by Kenyon Martin with 9 seconds to go. The prevailing postmortem theory is that a rotating big man would have been well served to take a foul rather than allow Martin a wide-open dunk. The Sixers were up 101-100, and there's no guarantee that Martin would have hit both free throws.

"I thought about leaving my man, I thought if I did they would just throw a lob, but I made my decision too late," center Samuel Dalembert said. "At the end of the day, I'm mad at myself because I hesitated."

Having said that, even if Dalembert, or another big man, had run hard at Martin, guard Chucky Atkins was wide open in the corner.

The Sixers, though, compounded their dilemma when Andre Iguodala hesitated on a spin move into the paint, dragged his pivot foot and was called for traveling with 3.7 seconds left. That forced Lou Williams to take a foul on Atkins with 2.9 seconds left. Andre Miller tried to distract Atkins by walking in front of him at the foul line, but instead of being called for a delay-of-game warning, Miller was assessed a technical foul.

Chauncey Billups hit the technical foul shot, Atkins hit both of his shots. Game over. The Nuggets had nothing to lose, and found a way to win. The Sixers had everything to gain, and didn't.

Six shots

The Jazz, missing big men

Paul Millsap

(sprained ligament, left knee),

Mehmet Okur

(back spasms) and

Carlos Boozer

(strained quadriceps), is coming off a 120-115 double-overtime loss Saturday in Houston. That left them with a starting frontcourt of

C.J. Miles


Andrei Kirilenko

and rookie

Kosta Koufos

. Millsap, Okur and Boozer represent 52.1 points per game; Millsap, who had been filling in for Boozer, had put up 15 straight double-doubles in points and rebounds before getting hurt last Tuesday in Milwaukee . . .

Former Sixer Kyle Korver is averaging eight points in 21.9 minutes coming off the bench, shooting 42.3 percent from three-point distance. Another former Sixer, Matt Harpring, is averaging 3.4 points in 10.4 minutes, still struggling from the effects of offseason ankle surgery and a subsequent infection. Massive backup big man Kyrylo Fesenko (7-1, 300 pounds) was technically a Sixers draft choice, taken No. 38 in the second round in 2007, but the choice was made for the Jazz as part of a previous deal. *

For more Sixers coverage, read the Daily News' Sixers blog, Sixerville, at