Missing three of five starters, the Detroit Pistons limped into the NBA All-Star break on Wednesday, absorbing a 103-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
The Pistons (27-27) began the day without starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, missing his fourth consecutive game with a core injury.
By game time, Detroit was down two more starters as both Ersan Ilyasova and Reggie Jackson were scratched due to illness.
The result, nine active Pistons filling in blanks and attempting to tie up loose ends, hung with the Nuggets until the midway point of the fourth quarter before Denver forward Will Barton embarked on a personal 9-0 run to push the game out of reach.
For Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy, the short bench was no excuse.
"We just didn't do our job, didn't play well enough," he said. "It had nothing to do with guys being sick or out."
Barton, who scored 15 in the fourth, led the Nuggets with 20 points.
Marcus Morris, one of two healthy starters alongside Andre Drummond, led the Pistons with 19.
The loss moves the Pistons to an even .500 and slides them into ninth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the All-Star break.
The Nuggets (22-32) had their way inside throughout the evening, racking up 62 points in the paint. Kenneth Faried and backup center Jusuf Nurkic combined to shoot 14-of-23 from the floor while also helping Denver earn a 47-42 advantage on the boards.
Despite operating with just nine available players, the Pistons kept themselves within striking distance thanks in part to some key contributions off the bench.
Seeing his first action since Jan. 16, backup point guard Steve Blake connected on his first two shots from the arc while center Aron Baynes finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
Darrun Hilliard, continuing his improved play of late, finished with nine points and a career-high six assists.
Still, despite five Pistons finishing in double figures, despite Andre Drummond's 15 points and 17 rebounds, and despite Brandon Jennings' 16 points in his first start of the year, the Pistons now head into the All-Star break at an even 27-27.