Nuggets at Hawks preview: Really want to win this one?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

A win for Denver over Atlanta gets New York closer to a post-season berth ... which is actually bad for Denver.

Game 66: 2013-14 NBA Season
@

Miami Heat (2000 - 2006)

29-36 (13-20 road)
Series 1-0
28-35 (18-11 home)
March 15th, 2014
Philips Arena - Atlanta, GA
5:30 PM MT
Altitude / 950 AM

Ty Lawson
PG Jeff Teague
Randy Foye SG Kyle Korver
Wilson Chandler SF DeMarre Carroll
Kenneth Faried
PF Paul Millsap
Timofey Mozgov
C Pero Antic
Notes
You're here!
Blogs Peachtree Hoops
Danilo Gallinari (knee) is out, JaVale McGee(leg fracture) is out, Nate Robinson (ACL sprain) is out Injuries Al Horford (shoulder) is out.
The Nuggets have struggled historically in Atlanta, going 3-19 there since the 1989-90 NBA season.
Facts The Hawks are first in the NBA in assists with 25.3 per game and record an assist on 67.1% of their made baskets, also first in the NBA.

If you're looking for a microcosm of why the 2013-14 NBA season has been no fun and, frankly, downright confusing for Denver Nuggets fans (and many other NBA fans) look no further than tonight's matchup versus the Atlanta Hawks.

Just six weeks ago, the Hawks had themselves firmly ensconced in the Leastern Conference playoff picture, holding strong to the 7th or 8th and final playoff seed and keeping the awful New York Knicks at bay. For Nuggets fans this was a good thing, as the Nuggets will receive the better of theirs or the Knicks' first round draft choice after the NBA Draft Lottery shakes out on May 20th ... meaning, it greatly benefits Denver to have New York miss the playoffs and by proxy give the Nuggets a second chance at a top lottery selection.

But something tragic happened from February 4th onward. The Hawks managed to lose 14 of 15 games through March 8th and the Knicks - despite losing 14 of 16 games themselves from February 1st until March 3rd - went on a five-game winning streak and are now just 3.5 games back of the Hawks for that 8th and final playoff seed.

In other words, it's in Denver's best interests for Atlanta to win. So what happens when Denver plays Atlanta? Who are we supposed to root for?

Well, I can never - and will never - root against my hometown team. And despite playing spotty basketball to kick off this five-game "southern" road trip that the Nuggets are currently on, they've won two straight with the second victory coming most impressively against the NBA Champion Heat ... in Miami! Overcoming a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Heat, last night the Nuggets held the champs at bay and pulled off a thrilling 111-107 road victory. It was by far the Nuggets most substantive victory in an otherwise forgettable season.

So our Nuggets are coming off a hard fought, thrilling victory and are set to play their fifth game in seven days while the Hawks have been waiting and resting at home and are (theoretically) desperate to fend off the charging Knicks and stay in the playoff picture. Who wins?

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) Score, score, score. The Nuggets have won four of their last six games and in each case they scored a ton of points, breaking the "taco" barrier of 110 points in each victory. If Denver wants to best Atlanta, they need to get into 110-point territory again.

2) Unleash the Manimal. Kenneth Faried is playing some of the best basketball of his career. In his last seven games (which the Nuggets have won four of), Faried is averaging 21.1 ppg and 10.1 rpg while shooting 64.5% from the field. But he'll have a hard time putting those numbers up against the Hawks' bruising power forward, Paul Millsap.

3) Keep the bench at bay. Surprisingly (because I've never heard of any of these guys), the Hawks' bench averages just 6 points per game less than the Nuggets' bench. But clearly, Denver has the superior bench and must deploy it well tonight if the Nuggets are to overcome end-of-the-road blues to secure their fifth victory in seven tries.

Scouting the Hawks ...

Hawks Non-Stiffs

-Paul Millsap: The aforementioned Millsap is having a terrific first season in Atlanta, and was rewarded as such with an All-Star Game selection in February. With Millsap out recently for five games due to injury, Atlanta lost four of them.

-Jeff Teague: There was talk of Teague joining Millsap on the All-Star team which was a bit of a stretch. But despite cooling off lately, Teague is still good for 16-20 points and 7-10 assists on any given night.

-Kyle Korver: When you make a three-pointer in 127 consecutive NBA games, you're no Stiff.

Hawks Stiffs

-Elton Brand: Now (only) 34 years old, it's hard to believe that Brand once put up 24.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 2.5 bpg in a season. Brand now barely musters 5 ppg and 5 rpg and he gets $4 million this season for the effort.

-Hawks Fans: The Hawks rank third-from-the-bottom in NBA attendance, filling just 77% of their available seats (by comparison, the Nuggets rank 18th and fill about 88% of their available seats).

Final Thought ...

Sadly, Nuggets fans need Hawks victories more than Nuggets victories. But with Monday night's game versus the Los Angeles Clippers shaping up to be one for the ages in Denver Nuggets history (if you haven't heard, the Nuggets are honoring the 1993-94 Denver Nuggets during the game ... and all those former players and coaches will be in attendance!), it sure would be nice to see the Nuggets ride a three-game winning streak into that one!

*****

SAVE THE DATE FOR SATURDAY, MARCH 22ND FOR
STIFFS NIGHT OUT WITH NUGGETS GM TIM CONNELLY

Nuggets GM Tim Connelly is going to join his fellow Stiffs to watch the NCAA Tournament at Jake's Food & Spirits on Saturday, March 22nd at 5pm. This is a great opportunity to meet Tim and get the inside scoop on your Nuggets!

*****

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