Charlie Villanueva scored 27 points, and Rodney Stuckey had 26 to help the banged-up Detroit Pistons hold on for a 101-99 victory over former teammate Chauncey Billups and the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.

Billups missed a layup in the final seconds, allowing the Pistons to run their winning streak to a season-best four games.

Carmelo Anthony scored 40 points for Denver, Billups had 21 and reserve J.R. Smith added 14. The Northwest Division-leading Nuggets have lost consecutive games for just the second time this season after winning four straight and eight of 10.

Anthony scored 30-plus points for the 14th time this season, one more than all of last season.

Detroit was without Richard Hamilton (right ankle), Ben Gordon (left ankle), Will Bynum (ankles) and Tayshaun Prince (back). Denver's Kenyon Martin (dislocated left pinkie) missed his second straight game.

Detroit traded Billups to Denver 13 months ago for Allen Iverson and his expiring contract to create salary-cap space _ which the Pistons used to sign Gordon and Villanueva _ and to speed Stuckey's development.

Billups' return didn't register much of a buzz at The Palace, where he was adored for helping Detroit win the 2004 NBA title, and he fell to 0-3 against Detroit as an ex-Piston.

Detroit was very competitive despite adding Bynum to the list of injured players.

Swedish rookie Jonas Jerebko had 12 points and eight rebounds, and Ben Wallace had seven points and 16 rebounds.

Detroit led 52-50 at halftime after 15 lead changes and nine ties.

Denver rallied from eight-point deficits in the third and had a chance to take the lead, but Smith missed a dunk and the Pistons scored the last seven points of the quarter to lead 80-73.

The Nuggets quickly pulled within two in the fourth, then Villanueva made a 3-pointer as the Pistons scrambled to beat the shot clock and rookie DaJuan Summers followed with a 3 for another eight-point lead.

Anthony made consecutive three-point plays to tie the game and another shot to put Denver ahead with 3:54 left for the first time since midway through the second quarter.

Chucky Atkins, who left the game in the second half with an injured right ankle, made free throws on the ensuing possession to give Detroit a 95-94 lead.

Wallace's hustle helped the Pistons hold on over the last couple of minutes, scoring on a putback and stealing a pass in the backcourt to set up Stuckey's layup that put them ahead by three.

Anthony missed a free throw on the ensuing possession with 52.6 seconds left, then Detroit failed to make a shot on consecutive possessions and the Nuggets had the ball at midcourt with 6.1 seconds left and Billups had a good look at a shot in the lane, but simply missed it

Billups was scoreless until making free throws with 1:28 left in the first quarter and missed his first five shots before his layup in the final seconds of the first half.

NOTES: Pistons president Tom Wilson declined comment on a report the team's gate receipts are down a 42.8 percent since the same point last season, but Wilson acknowledged "obviously, our numbers are down," as he looked toward sparsely filled upper-deck sections before the game. ... Detroit had lost seven straight games to Western Conference teams since beating Memphis in the opener, the only game Hamilton has played this season. ... The Pistons are 5-1 since putting Atkins in the starting lineup. ... Detroit has won 16 of its last 18 games vs. Denver. ... Anthony, who entered the game averaging an NBA-best 29.6 points, has failed to score 20-plus points in only one game this season. ... The Pistons were 0-5 in the second game of back-to-back nights. ... Denver is 0-3 this season without Martin. ... Orlando Magic senior vice president Pat Williams attended the game to promote his book, "Daly Wisdom: Life Lessons From Dream Team Coach and Hall of Famer Chuck Daly," that highlights 52 lessons from the Hall of Fame coach who led Detroit to back-to-back titles two decades ago and died in May.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.