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Denver — "Altitude? Shmaltitude!" said Stan Van Gundy, hours before the Pistons began their season Wednesday night in the tricky Rocky Mountain air.

Van Gundy was trying to convince his team, before they played the fast-paced Denver Nuggets, that it's nothing to fret about, playing at 5,000 feet.

"The altitude? Come on. I took exercise physiology in college. I just told these guys, don't get caught up in the myth, it's BS," Van Gundy said after the team's morning shootaround. "They've done a great job in all the sports perpetrating that for years and it's gotten in players' minds."

He points out his college days at SUNY-Brockport, when he took trips to South America to play games in elevations exceeding 10,000 feet.

"There, you feel it," he said. "This is … come on and play the game."

Caron Butler chuckled at Van Gundy's attempts at psychology. Butler spoke like a man who knew the realities of playing in the thin air, taking two quick, deep breaths before laughing.

"Remember the movie 'Harlem Nights,' said Butler, harkening back to an Eddie Murphy film. "The cop took deep breaths in the vault. That's how we'll be tonight. The first wind will be tough but once you catch it, you can adjust."

In the end of the film, Murphy's character locked his antagonist in a vault and estimated he had less than an hour before the air ran out, thus creating Butler's mocking of the quick breaths.

Although Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will start Wednesday night, Greg Monroe is suspended for the first game and veteran forward Cartier Martin is questionable with a plantar fascia strain (foot). It'll be all hands on deck, particularly defensively.

"We've been a bottom-10 defense team for four straight years and that's not gonna get it done," Van Gundy said. "It'll be a great challenge tonight, because the first thing we have to do to get better defensively is get back, and nobody runs better than these guys.

"It'll be a tremendous challenge."

vgoodwill@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/vgoodwill

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