PORTLAND - Allen Iverson is back and he brought with him a victory.

Last night, inside a sold-out Rose Garden against the very tough Portland Trail Blazers, Iverson started at shooting guard for the 76ers after missing the previous four games with arthritis in his left knee.

Quite unlike recent games, the Sixers played well in the fourth quarter, and defeated the Trail Blazers, 104-93.

Sixers reserve power forward Elton Brand finished with 25 points and nine rebounds.

The Sixers improved to 8-22. Portland slipped to 20-13.

Before last night's victory, the Sixers had lost 16 of 18 games.

"It's tough because I couldn't do anything to help," said Iverson before the game, referring to his missed time. "That was the roughest part: watching my teammates struggle and seeing things on the basketball court that I could have helped them with."

Per doctor's orders, Iverson's minutes were supposed to be limited to 28 to 30. He played 31, finishing with 19 points, five assists, and four rebounds.

With about 10 minutes remaining in the game, Iverson waited by the scorer's table. While there, he was literally rolling with excitement as the Sixers built an eight-point lead. Iverson finally checked into the game when Portland, trailing 83-75, called a time-out with 9 minutes, 29 seconds remaining.

A few minutes later, Iverson hit a baseline jumper and two free throws, helping boost the lead to 91-78.

With 3:40 remaining, that lead increased to 97-83.

"Just the attention that I get out there on the basketball court will help other guys," Iverson said at yesterday morning's shootaround. "You can't help off of me as much; you have to pay attention to where I am on the basketball court."

Iverson said his knee felt better, but not as strong as he'd like.

The Sixers scored 61 points in the second half. For much of this season, the Sixers have struggled in the fourth quarter, losing considerable leads in the game's final frame.

Last night, it was Portland's turn, missing bucket after bucket, getting outrebounded, getting outhustled and outdone.

During a dead ball time-out with 1:50 remaining, the Rose Garden went from packed to nearly empty. The Sixers have now won three in a row over the Trail Blazers.

Last night's victory was part offensive execution, part strong defense on Portland's main guy, Brand Roy. Roy scored 13 in the first half and ended with 24, although none of his second-half points impacted the game.

"Sometimes you have to trap him," Sixers coach Eddie Jordan said of Roy before the game. "Sometimes you have to show out [around the screen] and see if he can make a shot behind the pick at the three-point line, and then sometimes you have to give a little bit more help. So we'll have to change up the defenses. . . . Brandon Roy is a major guy."

Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala, who scored 14 points, was often Roy's defender.

Before the game, Jordan said he wanted his guys to get some easy buckets in transition. After the first quarter, the Sixers trailed and had zero fastbreak scores. At halftime, the Sixers trailed and had six points in transition.

By the end of the game they had numerous open-floor buckets: 16 points in all.

They also had one of their most impressive victories of the season.