The Detroit Pistons have just two wins in their last 12 games, a stretch of futility that started a month ago and continued with their sixth straight loss at the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
One of the two wins the Pistons have celebrated was a 128-123 overtime victory over Denver on Feb. 2. Detroit capitalized against a tired, wounded Nuggets team that day, but it won't have that advantage in Tuesday night's rematch in Denver.
The Nuggets have their entire roster available, while the Pistons are shedding players as they head toward another lottery in June. In the past week, Detroit has bought out Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris and signed former University of Michigan star Derrick Walton to a 10-day contract.
The Pistons also traded franchise centerpiece Andre Drummond to the Cleveland Cavaliers for John Henson, Brandon Knight and a second-round draft pick on Feb. 6. The changes have put Detroit squarely in the rebuilding column with 23 games left.
That doesn't mean the Pistons are going to tank the rest of the season.
"Our No. 1 thing is to maintain a competitive spirit, competitive edge, competitive outlook with our team because it's so easy," first-year coach Dwane Casey said last week. "You get situations where guys are hurt, guys are out, and guys hang their heads and feel sorry for themselves. We're in a situation not only to win games but also to develop a culture and go from there."
Denver isn't going to take Detroit lightly, not after getting a scare from a Minnesota Timberwolves team in a similar situation as the Pistons. The short-handed Timberwolves played the Nuggets tough into the fourth quarter on Sunday before Denver pulled away for a 128-116 victory.
The win snapped a brief two-game losing streak but it also prompted more questions about how coach Michael Malone will utilize his deep roster now that everyone is off the injury report.
Torrey Craig was playing big minutes before the All-Star break and logged just nine Sunday. Rookie Michael Porter Jr., who was playing well before an ankle injury cost him the last six games before the All-Star break, has played 18 total minutes in the last two games.
It's a balancing act Malone is trying to figure out while preparing for what he hopes is an extended postseason appearance.
"That's the big question right now," Malone said Sunday. "Do you try to utilize the quality depth that we have, or do you say, with 26 to go, we're going to really pare this rotation down? My fear with that is, by the time we get to the playoffs, we're going to be on empty.
"And then I don't want to just get to the playoffs this year. We want to make a deep run."
Two players who won't have to worry about playing time are Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. They have led the charge offensively all season but even more so in February. Jokic is averaging 27.3 points and Murray 26.4 in the month.
Veteran Paul Millsap joined in Sunday, scoring a season-high 25 points in his best game since returning from a knee injury that cost him 16 games in January and February.
"I've been out of the lineup for a while, so trying to get back in rhythm and figure things out," Millsap said Sunday.
--Field Level Media