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News » Last shot fails to fall Road loss to Detroit points to the difference between Western Conference powers. PISTONS 101, NUGGETS 99

Last shot fails to fall Road loss to Detroit points to the difference between Western Conference powers. PISTONS 101, NUGGETS 99

Last shot fails to fall Road loss to Detroit points to the difference between Western Conference powers. PISTONS 101, NUGGETS 99AUBURN HILLS, MICH. - The Los Angeles Lakers are a great team.

They're 17-3 (goodness!) and 9-0 since all-star Pau Gasol returned from injury (gracious!).

At times, the Nuggets are a great team too. Remember when Denver beat the Lakers at the Pepsi Center? Or even last Saturday, when the Nuggets slapped the Spurs around in San Antonio?

But after Thursday night's 101-99 loss to the Detroit Pistons - an encore to another what-the-heck? loss - Chauncey Billups said with certainty: "We're not a great team. We're a good team, not a great team. We have an opportunity to get a lot better, our window is really big to get better, but we're not a great team. We should be winning games like this and the Charlotte game. If you're supposed to win, you got to win."

It's very early in this marathon of a season, and the Nuggets , on paper, indeed can battle L.A. in the Western Conference finals. But the Nuggets know that home-court advantage is paramount in the conference finals. And back-to-back losses to sub-.500 teams - road, home, whatever - are the ones you think about come Game 1 at the Staples Center.

"The (constant) in some of our losses has been that (against) a team that's young, struggling a little bit or don't have a great record, we give them hope and confidence by not really going after them early in the game," said Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team is 16-7 and split the four-game road trip.

On Thursday, Denver had a chance to make it a 3-1 trip. The final seconds seemed almost out of a script: Denver down two, final possession of regulation, ball in Billups' hands, on the court where Mr. Big Shot had hit so many. Billups drove but couldn't get the layup attempt to land.

Now, normally a loss to Detroit doesn't look that bad, because the Pistons have studs such as Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Gordon. But all three didn't play because of injury, so guys such as Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye and even former Nugget Chucky Atkins played big minutes in the Pistons' win, Detroit's second in two nights.

"How much courage did they have today?" Pistons coach John Kuester asked about his team. "They were phenomenal."

The Nuggets tallied only 14 assists - three more than against Charlotte - and Billups said Denver must "be more focused. The same thing I always say. Be more focused on detail."

The point guard himself had just two assists, but he scored 21 points, including 15 in the second half.

Carmelo Anthony was holy-moly good. Denver's small forward scored 40 points and did so on 16-for-28 shooting, but after the game said: "It's almost like it was useless, to be honest with you. I don't think anybody wants to go out there, score 40 and lose."

Detroit countered with Charlie Villanueva, who averages 15 points per game, but scored 27 on Thursday, playing in a 48-minute zone.

The Nuggets have now lost seven straight games to Detroit, Denver's longest current losing streak against one team. And Denver hasn't won a game in Detroit since 1995, when Anthony was scoring 40 points on Baltimore playgrounds after middle school.

Benjamin Hochman: 303-954-1294 or

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: December 12, 2009


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