Billups returns to Detroit
During the past month the Nuggets have been able to exorcise two very big demons. First, on February 11th they went down to Orlando and beat the Magic on their home floor for the first time since the 1991-92 season 82-73. For an encore the Nuggets, on February 27th, handed arguably the best team in basketball their 11th loss of the season and the Nuggets' first win in 9 tries against the Lakers 90-79.
Tonight the Nuggets have an opportunity to exorcise another demon when they play tonight in Auburn Hills against the Detroit Pistons.
Nuggets 39-21 (17-14 on the road)
Pistons 29-29 (14-15 at home)
The Nuggets have not won a game in Detroit since the 1994-95 season. That game took place March 10th, 1995 and the Nuggets, led by current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose and his team-high 20 points won that contest 99-88. Dikembe Mutombo also contributed 8 blocks.
Denver has not won in Detroit in 13 seasons, posting a record of 0-12. The only reason Denver is not 0-13 is probably because during the strike shortened season of 1998-99 the Nuggets did not play in Detroit (Denver finished that season 14-36 so things were not looking good anyway.)
There have been some very bizarre games for the Nuggets in Detroit. Take the loss on November 16, 2002 for example. The Nuggets lost that one 74-53. Denver was led by Juwon Howard's 12 points. The Nuggets used a starting lineup of:
PG: Kenny Satterfield
SG: James Posey
SF: Nikoloz Tskitishvili
PF: Juwon Howard
C: Mark Blount
Remember those dark days? Denver did have a kid named Nene Hilario on the bench along with little used Chris Anderson, both looking to make names for themselves with the Nuggets. Denver would finish the season tied for the worst record in the league with the Cleveland Cavaliers 17-65 and draw the short end of the stick in the draft lottery by getting the #3 pick in the draft. So, not only were we to lose out on LeBron James, but also the talented freshman phenom from Syracuse Carmelo Anthony because yep ... the Pistons through a trade with the Grizzlies were able to secure the #2 pick in the draft.
Joe Dumars had this to say after the lottery played out:
"It's unbelievable. When Denver got the number three pick, the room went wild. This is unbelievable."
"It's cut and dry that we are going to get a great pick. I don't want to say anything right now. It's a tough call. They are both great players, both are considered consensus impact players."
"He (Darko Milicic) or Carmelo Anthony would look good in a Pistons' uniform. I'm going to be politically correct here. Either one of them would do well with us.”
Funny how things play out. I remember going wild as well when Denver's #3 pick was unveiled, but for completely different reasons.
Nuggets fans were suffering through watching our highly touted #4 pick Nikoloz Tskitishvili or Skita as he became known, struggle through his rookie season and look more like bust than future star. Needless to say I was not looking forward to taking another unknown European talent over a proven college commodity.
I had just witnessed Carmelo Anthony have a terrific March Madness for Syracuse, much like the player I wanted Denver to draft a year earlier in Caron Butler out of Connecticut. You could say I went all "Dick Vitale" when me and my buddies talked about the draft. Vitale berates NBA teams every season for taking unknown overseas players over proven college stars.
But the Pistons, for the the beatings they gave us over the years, finally did Denver a HUGE favor. Joe Dumars drafted Darko Milicic #2 overall and Carmelo Anthony fell to the Nuggets!
There were rumors after the draft that our General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe was trying to trade up in order to draft MILICIC! The way things turned out could not have been better for the Nuggets. Management was not faced with the age old challenge of drafting size over talent. If you look back through draft history ... size almost always wins out. Recently Greg Oden (Ohio State) over Kevin Durant (Texas) and the most famous instance of course is Sam Bowie (Kentucky) over Michael Jordan (North Carolina).
Things quickly turned around for Denver as the Nuggets won 26 more games in the 2003-04 season than they did the previous year and we even made the playoffs. Still though, Denver did not beat Detroit in Detroit during the regular season (lost 94-75).
In fact, Melo has never won a game in Detroit. The closest Denver came was on March 26, 2007. And then this happened:
The Nuggets appeared to have the game won as they prepared to inbound the ball at midcourt with a 98-95 lead and 1.5 seconds to play. Marcus Camby's short pass, though, was tipped by Tayshaun Prince, and Wallace threw up a desperation two-handed set shot (from 60 feet) that banked in as the buzzer sounded (and forced overtime).
The Pistons outscored Denver 15-11 in OT and won the game 113-109.
Last season the Nuggets lost to Detroit on March 18, 2008 by 16 points. Melo and Iverson combined for 47 points, but Denver was out-gunned 136-120.
But this season, just as it happened in the 2003 draft, the Nuggets once again turned to Detroit for an answer. Turns out the Pistons wanted The Answer and Denver traded Iverson to Detroit for Billups. Just as I had been after hearing Detroit took Milicic again I was elated with Detroit's decision to help out the Nuggets.
It's been much publicized how Billups arrival has transformed the Nuggets. Denver is 38-18 with Billups on board. Does Billups get too much credit? Of course he does. Everyone in the Nuggets' corner knows that Denver has been aided by the maturity of Melo and JR Smith, the emergence and health of Nene and KMart and the return of Birdman. Basketball is THE team sport.
The Nuggets must now go to Detroit and play a great team game. The Nuggets will be without Carmelo Anthony so he, once again, will have to wait until next year to get a win himself in Detroit.
The Pistons have been playing much better in their past two straight wins without Allen Iverson. The Answer will not be in the lineup tonight as he's getting his injured back looked at by a specialist in Washington D.C. as his injury may be more serious than previously anticipated.
Iverson is having his worst scoring season since his second year in the league (1997-98 ... 22 ppg). He's averaging 18 points this season and Detroit Head Coach Michael Curry has stated Iverson will be coming off the bench for the duration of the season as Richard Hamilton makes a permanent return to the starting lineup.
Opposition: Piston Powered
- In Denver's 12 game losing streak ... 6 and now 7 of those games will be played in March
- Billups was 3 points shy of tying his career high against the Nuggets two years ago when he was with Detroit in the Pistons overtime win 113-109 (34 points)
- The Nuggets last win in Detroit came just two seasons after Altitude TV Nuggets announcer Scott Hastings retired from the team after averaging 2.1 points per game in 76 games