The Denver Nuggets have been very successful thanks to a young nucleus of talent, led by Danilo Gallinari. However, as much as the trade for Gallinari has paid off, they still express appreciation for Chauncey Billups.
Billups returns to Denver on Sunday as the Los Angeles Clippers look to snap the Nuggets' six-game winning streak.
When Denver traded Billups and Carmelo Anthony to New York last season, it signified a youth movement for the Nuggets (14-5). Yet they've shown a flashy star isn't necessary for success.
Denver has averaged 109.7 points during a six-game winning streak. Gallinari, the big acquisition for the Nuggets in last February's trade, has averaged 25.5 points in the last four wins.
Gallinari, who signed a four-year, $42 million contract extension Wednesday, scored 21 points in a 96-81 win over Toronto on Friday.
Rudy Fernandez led Denver with a season-high 23 points. He missed the previous two games with a sore right Achilles and had played less than 22 minutes combined in two appearances over Denver's last six contests.
"I'm feeling good with my shots and I'm happy my Achilles is feeling better, which is more important," said Fernandez, who made 5 of 7 3-pointers.
The Nuggets will try to extend their winning streak against another former teammate after beating Anthony and the Knicks last Saturday.
Ty Lawson, the team's current point guard, is looking forward to facing Billups, who spent three full seasons and parts of two others in Denver, then signed a free-agent deal with Los Angeles. Lawson missed Friday's game due to a sprained left ankle but is expected to play Sunday.
"Chauncey was huge because I was a young point guard coming into the game," Lawson told the Nuggets' official website. "He's been everywhere I want to be. He's been an All-Star, he won a championship. I learned everything from him. He was very important to my development. It's going to fun playing against him."
Billups is averaging 14.9 points this season, but 7.7 in the last three games while shooting 6 of 27 (22.2 percent).
Los Angeles (10-6) has dropped four in a row on the road and alternated wins and losses the last seven games overall.
Chris Paul will try to end that pattern. He had 18 points and seven assists in a 98-91 win over Memphis on Thursday. Blake Griffin had 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
After failing to protect their lead against the Los Angeles Lakers the night before, the Clippers nearly blew a nine-point advantage with less than 5 minutes to go against Memphis. The Grizzlies made it 91-89 with 1:19 left, but the Clippers held on.
Los Angeles also failed to protect a double-digit lead in a Jan. 20 loss to Minnesota.
"Sooner or later we're going to learn, because these little opportunities can slip away from you," Paul, playing his second game after missing five with a sore hamstring, said. "We've got to build up as many wins as possible, and it feels good for me to be out there. I've got to keep the energy going. Every game means so much."
The Clippers have given up 106.0 points per game on 51.0-percent shooting during their road losing streak. They've also dropped nine straight in Denver while giving up 109.6 per contest.
Paul, though, has enjoyed playing in Denver, averaging 25.6 points and 9.8 assists in his last five visits.