Hawks vs. Nuggets preview: Avoiding 0-for-four

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The traveling Atlanta Hawks present our Denver Nuggets with a good opportunity to claim their first victory of the young 2013-14 NBA season.

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Game 4: 2013-2014 NBA Season
Atlanta Hawks (1973 - 1995)
@
Denver Nuggets (1982 - 1993)
2-2 (1-2 road)
Series 0-0
0-3 (0-2 home)
November 7th, 2013
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
7:00 PM MT
Altitude TV / 950 AM
Starters
Jeff Teague PG Ty Lawson
Kyle Korver SG Randy Foye
DeMarre Carroll SF Jordan Hamilton
Paul Millsap PF Kenneth Faried
Al Horford C JaVale McGee
Notes
Peachtree Hoops Blogs You're here!
Lou Williams (knee) is out Injuries Wilson Chandler (hamstring) is doubtful, Anthony Randolph (ankle) is questionable, Kenneth Faried (bruised back) is probable, Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out.
The Hawks haven't won at Pepsi Center since 2006. Stat The Nuggets haven't opened a season with four straight losses since the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season.


Despite losing to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night - a third consecutive loss to open this young NBA season - our Denver Nuggets finally showed some signs of life ... albeit for just three quarters. But with a thinned-out Atlanta Hawks team arriving in Denver Wednesday for a Thursday night game at Pepsi Center, the Nuggets may only need three good quarters to claim victory number one this season.

And by thinned out in Atlanta, I mean thinned out. I like to fashion myself as a pseudo NBA guru and yet I've never heard of anyone on the Hawks bench other than Elton Brand and Lou Williams (who's out with a knee injury).

Who is Cartier Martin? (The only Cartier I know is the jewelry maker.)

Or Dennis Schroder? (Any relation to former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder?!)

Or Pero Antic? (I'll spare our readers "antic" puns here.)

In fact, I'm willing to bet that new Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer doesn't even know who these bench guys are given his over reliance on his starters through the Hawks first four games. And among Budenholzer's "starters" only two - Al Horford and Paul Millsap - would start on virtually any other NBA team. Two others - Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver - would be relegated to reserve duty on most playoff caliber teams and the fifth starter - former Nugget DeMarre Carroll - typically doesn't last on an NBA roster for more than a handful of games.

And yet the Hawks have five players (including the aforementioned Cartier) averaging double figures in scoring, are putting up about 105 points per game and are 2-2 while the Nuggets are 0-3. So maybe sneering at the Hawks' present roster isn't the right thing to do.

For starters, the Hawks are scoring about 7 points more per game than they did last season. Meanwhile, the Nuggets led the NBA with about 106 points per game last season and find themselves in low the 90s this season.

Secondly, the Hawks are currently among the NBA's top seven in field goal percentage while the Nuggets languish at third from the bottom. (Both teams were in the top seven a season ago.)

And finally, while the Hawks are stealing nearly 11 balls per game, the Nuggets guards are plucking just 4.3 balls away from their opponents each night. Another major reversal from last season when the Nuggets nearly led the league in steals with 9.3 per game.

Now granted, we're comparing just four Hawks games to only three Nuggets games played thus far, so let's not draw any major conclusions here. The macro point, however, is that win number one (in game number four) for Denver isn't going to come easily.

Maybe the Nuggets will need four complete quarters to pull this one off, after all.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) Big ball versus small ball
The Hawks serve up one of the smallest and least athletic front lines in the NBA, with the 6'9" Horford playing center, the 6'8" Millsap anchoring the power forward position and the 6'9" Brand playing some backup center. In theory, Nuggets giant seven-foot centers JaVale McGee and Timofey Mozgov should feast on these guys, but we know that's unlikely to happen. Horford, Millsap and Brand are among the NBA's craftiest big men when it comes to using their bodies well and this game will be yet another lesson to McGee and Mozgov on how badly their post play - both offensively and defensively - needs to improve.

2) Getting out to Korver
For the second season in a row (again, I know it's early in this season), the Nuggets have struggled defending the three-ball and with Korver, the Hawks possess one of the NBA's best marksmen from behind the arc. Korver is connecting on 65% of his three-point attempts so far this season and makes about 3 per game. To shut him down, the Nuggets will need to get in his face with rangy bodies like Evan Fournier and Jordan Hamilton.

3) More Jordan?
Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw told our own Nate Timmons that he was "encouraged" by Hamilton's play after the Spurs game, and I concur. I'd like to see J-Ham get more consistent minutes and see what value this young player has in the NBA.

Scouting the Hawks

Hawks Non-Stiffs

-Al Horford: Horford is showing again why he's an All-Star caliber player and it's unfortunate that he has had to play out of position at center for most of his NBA career. A very capable center, Horford would be a great power forward if given the opportunity.

-Paul Millsap: The bruising Millsap gave the Nuggets fits for years as a member of the rival Utah Jazz. Now Millsap plays alongside Horford forming one of the toughest five-four combos in the NBA.

-Jeff Teague: 18.3 ppg, 8.8 apg and 2.0 spg - Teague is off to the best start of his NBA career from the point guard position.

Hawks (Retro) Stiff

-Jon Koncak: Do any Nuggets fans remember Jon Koncak? The Atlanta equivalent to Blair Rasmussen, Koncak was the Hawks' backup center throughout their late 80s run and, like Rasmussen, was rewarded with a (at the time) very controversial contract of six years, $13 million in 1989. To put that in perspective, on annual basis at the time Koncak made $300,000 less than Michael Jordan and $500,000 less than Larry Bird. No joke. Never averaging more than 4 points and 5 rebounds per game since receiving the contract, Koncak departed the NBA at just 32 years old in 1996.

Parting Shot

As with most NBA teams nowadays, there aren't any more Jon Koncaks or Blair Rasmussens dwelling at the end of NBA benches and today's Hawks are no different. Teams made a decision years ago that they're better off with an athletic kid with upside or a savvy Juwan Howard or Rasheed Wallace veteran-type than a big white Stiff taking up a valuable roster spot. And while I may not know who most of the Hawks' current reserves are, based on their play to date they're to be respected or the Nuggets will drop a fourth straight game in front of a very disappointed Pepsi Center crowd.

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