Detroit (23-43) at Denver (38-27)

By BRETT HUSTON, STATS Senior Writer Saturday, Mar 12, 2011 Tipoff: 9:00 pm EST Sat Mar 12, 2011

The Denver Nuggets were unquestionably built to score plenty of points when Carmelo Anthony(notes) was around, but lately even George Karl admits he’s not sure where his team’s greatest strength lies.

He’s certainly having fun trying to figure it out.

The surging Nuggets look for a seventh win in nine games since the Anthony trade when they play their lone home game during a road-heavy stretch Saturday night against the Detroit Pistons.

Denver (38-27) scored 107.6 points per game and surrendered 105.2 before dealing Anthony and Chauncey Billups(notes), and at that point most expected Karl’s team to see its offensive production take a dramatic dip.

Instead, the Nuggets’ offense has stayed fairly constant - averaging 106.0 points - but they’ve made a dramatic improvement on the defensive end. Denver has allowed 94.6 points per game since the All-Star break, the fifth fewest in the league.

The Nuggets were clicking on both ends Thursday even without Arron Afflalo(notes) (hamstring) and Danilo Gallinari(notes) (sprained toe). Nene scored a game-high 22 points, Ty Lawson(notes) added 20 points and 11 assists and Denver shot 51.7 percent in a 116-97 win at Phoenix.

“Are we an offensive team or a defensive team?” Karl said. “… I don’t know. They both were pretty good. I probably think tonight we were more dominating defensively. I thought our offense was created by our defensive actions a lot.”

The Nuggets have won four of five without Gallinari, who could return as early as Tuesday’s opener of a four-game road trip at New Orleans. Afflalo, meanwhile, will miss at least Saturday’s game and could be out longer.

Eight Denver players have averaged in double figures since Feb. 28, led by Nene’s 17.4 points per game.

The Brazilian center missed the Nuggets’ visit to Detroit on Jan. 26 with a strained right calf, but Billups scored 26 in a 109-100 victory - Denver’s second straight in the series after having lost 16 of 18.

This is the Nuggets’ lone stop at the Pepsi Center in an eight-game stretch, and they should have a great opportunity to pick up a sixth consecutive home victory. The Pistons (23-43) have lost their last five road games, falling to 1-19 against teams .500 or above away from The Palace with Friday’s 104-94 loss at Oklahoma City.

The Thunder shot 50.0 percent, the 31st time Detroit has allowed an opponent to make at least half its field-goal attempts. The Pistons are 8-23 in those games.

“Defense has been lacking all year,” said Rodney Stuckey(notes), who started 50 games before coach John Kuester decided to have him come off the bench earlier this week. “We have to get better at it, especially going to play Denver. They are an up-and-down team, so we are going to have to stay with them, they are going to be running.”

One positive for Detroit has been the play of Richard Hamilton(notes) since Kuester finally allowed his disgruntled former All-Star back in the rotation. Hamilton has scored in double figures in all five games, and he’s put up 20 apiece in his last two - the first time he’s hit that mark in consecutive games since March 5-7.

Denver has outrebounded its opponents by 8.3 per game since the All-Star break, bad news for a Pistons team that averages the fewest boards (38.4) in the NBA.

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Saturday, Mar 12