Denver: 25-21 (14-12 at home)
Streak: Lost 1
Detroit: 16-29 (4-18 on the road)
Streak: Lost 2
Denver: Danilo Gallinari (left thumb fracture) is OUT, Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) is questionable, Andre Miller (right shoulder separation) is OUT.
Detroit: Charlie Villanueva (right ankle issues) is probably OUT.
Season Series: 0-0
Opposition's Take: Detroit Bad Boys
I was hanging out with a former top Pistons executive a few years ago and when I openly questioned general manager Joe Dumars' recent stewardship of the franchise (this was right after Dumars stupidly overpaid for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, a year after trading away Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson), the executive said to me: "Say what you want about Joe, but for 10 years the Pistons have been the most profitable team in the NBA."
The executive was referring to the Pistons magical run from 2001 through 2008 during which the Pistons never won less than 50 games, appeared in six straight conference finals, two straight NBA Finals and upset the Lakers to win the 2004 NBA Championship. But from 2008 onward (basically, from the Iverson trade forward) the Pistons have been an utter disaster. They've gone through three coaches - Michael Curry, John Kuester and now Lawrence Frank, in descending order of height interestingly - and will miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season this year.
The reason for much of this - and you can pin it all on Dumars - is that the Pistons have been suffering an identity crisis since Iverson's arrival in 2008. They've had a bizarre mix of veterans and young players, with none of the veterans being All-Stars and none of the young players being top-flight lottery picks. If this sounds like the roster that our Nuggets have right now, I suppose there are some similarities.
But the big difference is that the Nuggets' youngsters - notably Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and hopefully soon Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov and JaVale McGee - are bona fide NBA players whereas the Pistons serve up a collection of mediocrity on their roster. Moreover, the Nuggets clearly have a youth movement afoot (after the Nene-for-JaVale McGee trade, the Nuggets became the NBA's second youngest team) whereas Dumars hasn't been willing to go overtly young, meaning the Pistons will win enough games to miss out on a top-three lottery pick while not having a shot at the playoffs at the same time. It's a miserable place to be if you're a Pistons fan. The Nuggets may not win a championship anytime soon, but at least they'll contend for 50 wins annually if their roster is healthy.
Coming into Denver tonight the Pistons have lost two straight games, albeit they were gutty performances at Phoenix and at the Clippers - where they lost by just four points in overtime on Sunday. And prior to the two straight losses, the Pistons won at Sacramento and recently had a three-game winning streak, including victories over Atlanta and the Lakers at home. So with the way the Nuggets have been playing at home (read: poorly), don't be the least surprised when tonight's game turns into a close one.
And on the Nuggets side of the ledger, injuries have struck again. Gallinari now has a fractured left thumb and will be out two to four weeks. And this was just as Gallo was getting his game back in gear after coming off a nasty ankle sprain injury earlier in the season. Fortunately, the newly re-signed Chandler can fill in for many of the minutes that Gallo gets and hopefully Chandler can match about 80-85% of Gallo's production on both ends of the floor.
The other injury is to iron man Andre Miller who separated his right shoulder during the debacle loss to the Mavericks on Monday night. Most Denver Stiffs readers are probably thrilled to see Miller miss a few games, as the aging Miller has been over-used by head coach George Karl, seemed clearly run down recently and has seen his play suffer as a result. A fellow season-ticket holder gave me a great line about Miller the other day, saying: "I have no problem with Andre Miller as a backup point guard. But then play him as backup point guard, not as a two-guard next to Ty Lawson for 28 minutes a game!" I couldn't have said it better myself.
But my fellow Stiffs should be careful for what they wish for. Miller being out is one thing, but that leaves the Nuggets with only Julyan Stone as a backup to Lawson. Stone would hard pressed to make any other NBA team, save the Bobcats, Raptors ... and maybe the Pistons.
SCOUTING THE PISTONS
-Brandon Knight: Knight is having a respectable rookie season, averaging 12.5 ppg and 3.7 apg. He's no Kyrie Irving, but Knight has shown flashes that he could be a legit point guard in the NBA down the road.
-Greg Monroe: In only his second season, Monroe is having a breakout year, averaging 16.6 ppg, 10 rpg, 2.5 apg and shooting over 50% from the field. Monroe is a beast and Mozgov, Koufos and Faried will have their hands full dealing with the big kid from Georgetown tonight.
-Tayshaun Prince: The savvy vet Prince re-signed with the Pistons (again, Dumars, why?) and has rewarded them with another solid season on both ends of the floor.
-Ben Gordon: For his $11 million investment (just this season) in Gordon, Dumars is getting 11.5 ppg on 42.1% shooting. Those numbers make Arron Afflalo's contract look like a steal!
-Charlie Villanueva: For his $7.5 million investment (again, just this season) in Villanueva, Dumars has gotten three total games played this season for a total of three rebounds and one field goal attempt (no makes) per game. Both Villanueva and Gordon are under contract through the 2013-14 season. Can someone say "amnesty clause"?
The Pistons have one of the NBA's worst road records at 4-18. One would think that this game would be a slam dunk victory for the Nuggets, but the Nuggets have produced just four wins during this nine-game home stand to date. Tonight is the ninth and final game before the Nuggets hit the road for a few weeks as the NCAA Women's Final Four comes to Denver.
I hate to say it, but perhaps the Nuggets are better off playing away from Pepsi Center right now.