Pistons vs. Nuggets preview: Nuggets look for fourth victory in five games against Drummond-less Pistons

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It's always bittersweet when hometown hero Chauncey Billups returns to Denver, whether or not he's actually on the court. While the Nuggets have won 4 in 5, the Pistons have lost 4 in 5 and are looking to snap a long road losing streak tonight in the Pepsi Center.

Game 68: 2013-14 NBA Season
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25-41 (10-20 away)
Series 1-0
30-37 (17-16 home)
March 19th 2014
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
7:00 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Brandon Jennings PG Ty Lawson
Kyle Singler SG Randy Foye
Jonas Jerebko ? SF Wilson Chandler
Josh Smith ? PF Kenneth Faried
Greg Monroe ? C Timofey Mozgov
Notes
Detroit Bad Boys Blogs You're here!
Andre Drummond (neck), Chauncey Billups (knee) and Josh Harrellson (knee) are out Injuries Danilo Gallinari (knee), JaVale McGee (leg fracture), Nate Robinson (ACL sprain) are out.

The Detroit Pistons have lost 10 straight on the road

Stat

The Nuggets are on track to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002-2003, the last season the team finished below .500

Even though he won't be playing in tonight's game, Chauncey Billups' presence will be felt in Denver.

It always has been, from his days as the King of Park Hill, to his time at the University of Colorado, to winning an NBA Finals over the Los Angeles Lakers with the underdog Pistons in 2004. Although Chauncey has lost more than a step at 37 years old, his basketball acumen and keen eye for the game have proven as reliable as they ever were. He's always watching, studying, teaching. He's a consummate professional, the disposable superstar, and I'll always dream about what may have been had the Nuggets front office found a way to keep him during the Melodrama saga in February 2011. With Chauncey's increasingly ailing body, It's very possible that this will be his last season as an NBA player, though we all expect him return to the sidelines in a coaching capacity. Get well soon, Mr. Big Shot.

The last time these two teams met, Ty Lawson went to the bench in the first half with a fractured rib, and the Pistons torched the Nuggets 126-109 after Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith combined for 65 points and 20 assists (35 from Jennings, 30 from Smith). Rodney Stuckey added 19, and Andre Drummond chipped in 18 points and 15 rebounds. Tonight, without Andre Drummond and facing a revitalized Nuggets squad, the stumbling Pistons - who have lost 12 of their last 15 - will have their work cut out for them.

For one, Lawson will (hopefully) play the entire game. During his absence with his rib injury, the Nuggets lost 8 times and went just 1-9 in the span. Lawson is absolutely critical to the success of this team, even when he's not being as aggressive as Nuggets fans would like him to be. Brian Shaw certainly recognizes Ty's importance:

"We got our engine back in Ty," Shaw said. "When he was out, it was no secret (that) we struggled in every aspect of the game. He exudes confidence and gives off confidence to our guys when he's out there on the floor with them."

Since their last meeting with the Pistons, the Nuggets have also shifted J.J. Hickson to the bench and inserted Timofey Mozgov into the starting lineup, allowing Mozgov to intimidate with his size (if not ball-handling skills) and Hickson to play his more natural position at power forward (and against competition requiring less defensive acumen). Kenneth Faried has also been an absolute monster of late, and will be a handful for Josh Smith and Jonas Jerebko. It will also be interesting to watch whom the Pistons trot out in their starting lineup, as both centers (Drummond and Harrellson) are out with injuries. I would expect that Greg Monroe will slide to the 5, Josh Smith will play the 4, and Jonas Jerebko will start at the 3 - though Pistons head coach John Loyer could certainly change things up prior to the tip.

As Nuggets fans, we've all been through a tough year. With the multiple, season-ending injuries and facing the prospect of missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade, it's been easy to root for the Nuggets to lose for a better lottery pick lately. I've wavered back and forth myself, from hoping they lose one night to cheering hard for a win the next. The team seems to have found a new sense of self under Brian Shaw, and is playing with better effort than perhaps at any other point than the first two weeks of this season. Watching the team buckle down and finish off the Los Angeles Clippers was a definite high point, another feather in the Nuggets cap to go along with victories over the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat. The squad finally seems to be playing more loosely and with a sense of fun again, and its coming through in their recent wins.

I want to see another one tonight.

What to Watch For

- Manimalization. Will Kenneth Faried be able put up another 20 point, 10 rebound night against the similarly athletic Josh Smith?

- Speed kills. Ty Lawson will go off against Brandon Jennings and Will Bynum after a few quiet games. I expect Ty to have at least 15 points and 7 assists.

- Foye vs. Stuckey. Will Randy Foye again outduel Rodney Stuckey, or will Stuckey get the better of Foye this time?

Gamethread at 6:50 MST.

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