DETROIT | The Denver Nuggets decided before Tuesday’s game in Detroit that the safest approach was to give Nikola Jokic at least one more night off before bringing him back from injury.
It turned out to be a wise decision.
Without Jokic and Paul Millsap, the Nuggets still routed the Pistons 103-84 behind 28 points from Jamal Murray.
“Jamal was great, but this was the whole team,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Holding that team to 84 points is a remarkable effort, and we were unselfish on offense. Will Barton had 10 assists and Gary Harris had nine, and they only combined for two turnovers.”
Murray finished the game with 11 field goals, one more than Detroit’s starting lineup combined.
“That was extremely bad basketball,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That’s one of the worst losses I’ve ever had as a coach, and I’ve coached 850-some games between the regular season and the playoffs.”
Van Gundy had juggled Detroit’s lineup after his starters shot 26 percent (13-for-50) in Sunday’s loss to the Boston Celtics. It didn’t help.
Reggie Bullock, inserted for Stanley Johnson, went 3-for-5 from the floor, but the other four starters — Tobias Harris, Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson — shot 22.6 percent (7-for-31) and turned the ball over 15 times.
“Those four are our best four players, so we can’t bench them and expect to win games with the other nine guys,” Van Gundy said. “Those four have got to stop putting us in holes, and it is my job to figure out how to make that happen.”
Trey Lyles added 20 points for Denver. Wilson Chandler scored 18 points, and Mason Plumlee had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
“Guys were missing a lot of shots, so there were a lot of rebounds out there,” Plumlee said.
The Nuggets shot 50.6 percent from the floor and held Detroit to 35.4 percent.
“When we defend like this, we’re a good team,” Malone said. “We did it for 48 minutes, which is great to see, but we have to keep it going.”
Reserves Langston Galloway (18 points) and Boban Marjanovic (14) led the Pistons in scoring. Jackson was the only Detroit starter to reach double figures with 12 points.
Detroit turned the ball over eight times in the game’s first nine minutes, and was down 12 points as a result. Van Gundy went to his bench, and Marjanovic started a rally with his post offense.
The Denver lead was down to 33-30 when Drummond returned to the floor, but Van Gundy went back to Marjanovic after the Nuggets went back up 44-36 late in the half. Drummond finished with just five points in 27 minutes.
“Mason was great,” Malone said. “Drummond is a load and so is Boban. Those are two big individuals, and our guys met the challenge against them.”
The Nuggets led 49-40 at halftime, outshooting Detroit 48.7 percent to 33.3 percent.
Denver kept up in the pace on both ends of the floor in the third quarter, taking a 72-52 lead late in the period. They led 80-60 going into the fourth and were never seriously threatened.
Nuggets: Malone said Jokic has a chance of playing Wednesday against the Boston Celtics. … Monte Morris made his NBA debut, finishing with an assist and a missed 3-pointer in three minutes of action. Morris grew up in Flint, about 90 minutes north of Detroit. “It was special to hear my number called, and it was pretty spectacular to do it here, in front of my family,” he said.
Pistons: Johnson was demoted to deep in Van Gundy’s new rotation, not entering the game until the Pistons were down by 22 in the third quarter. … Anthony Tolliver broke his nose in the first half and expects to keep playing with a protective mask.
Nuggets: At Boston on Wednesday for the second half of a back-to-back.
Pistons: At Atlanta on Thursday for the first game of a road back-to-back.