AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP)—It was a win-win night at the Palace.
The red-white-and-blue clad fans still adore Billups for the 2004 NBA title he led Detroit to as finals MVP and for being its leader during a run of six straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals.
His introduction with a signature—“Buh! Buh! Buh! Billups!—set off a standing ovation that lasted a couple of minutes and led to him blowing kisses in each direction.
Billups said it was the most emotional regular season game he’s experienced in his 12-year career.
“I may forget the game and what happened,” he said. “But the ovation and warm welcome the fans gave me, I’ll never forget.”
Forgive the Pistons if they can’t recall what it’s like to win a few games in a row or a single one at home.
Detroit has won three straight for the first time in two months—after losing seven straight—and hadn’t been victorious at home since Feb. 4 against Miami.
Instead of challenging for a home-court advantage in the playoffs, or a division title, the Pistons have been struggling since trading Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson.
“It’s just sad to see we’re 30-29,” Pistons guard Richard Hamilton said.
Tayshaun Prince scored 23 points for the Pistons and four of his teammates scored at least 16, attacking with a balanced offense perhaps not coincidentally because Iverson missed his third straight game with a back injury.
As awful as Detroit has been at times, it became the first team in the NBA to beat each of the division leaders with Sunday’s win at Boston. And now, it has beaten the Northwest Division-leading Nuggets twice.
“This is huge,” Detroit coach Michael Curry said. “This is as big of a win, or bigger, than the road wins because we owe it to our fans.”
Denver coach George Karl is impressed by the much-maligned team.
“The Pistons are playing at a higher level than they have all season,” Karl said.
The Nuggets suspended Anthony for the game after he refused to go to the bench against Indiana on Sunday when Karl tried to take him out.
“In my mind, that crossed the line,” Karl said.
The Nuggets have lost five of seven, letting their division lead slip to a game over Portland and 1 1/2 games ahead of Utah. They host the Trail Blazers on Thursday, then play on the road the next night against the Jazz.
“That’s a tough swing because those teams are right behind us,” Billups said.
Nene scored 20 and J.R. Smith had 16 points for the Nuggets.
Detroit made the unpopular move of trading Billups early in the season to create playing time for second-year pro Rodney Stuckey, to clear about $20 million in salary cap space and to give the team a new look in the postseason.
In the short term, the trade hasn’t helped the Pistons out. If they can add a star or two this summer or next and Stuckey emerges as a consistent standout, it might be viewed differently.
Detroit is six games under .500 with Iverson in the starting lineup, where Curry said the superstar will not return when his back is healthy enough for him to play. Iverson is scheduled for an examination Wednesday.
Hamilton, who will bump Iverson to the bench, scored 21 points against Denver.
Antonio McDyess had 16 points and 12 rebounds, Rasheed Wallace had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Stuckey added 17 points and some key offensive rebounds in the closing minutes when the Pistons were clinging to a lead.
Early on, it seemed as if Billups was going to star and win in his homecoming game.
He matched a season-high with 21 points in the first half, helping Denver earn a 10-point lead.
After it was 74-all entering the fourth quarter, Detroit took control with six straight points and its balanced offense proved to be too much for the Nuggets. ^Notes: In his first game against Detroit as an ex-Piston, Billups scored 30 points in a three-point loss on Jan. 9 at home. … Nuggets TV analyst Scott Hastings, a former Piston, made a no-look, over-the-head shot from a chair on the sideline before the game. … The Pistons are on their best winning streak since Dec. 23 to Jan. 4, when they won a seventh straight game.