Denver could not get back on track tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. George Karl switched up the starting lineup by inserting Renaldo Balkman (for injured K-Mart) and Joey Graham (for A.C.) and even played some small ball with Billups, Lawson, A.C., Afflalo, and Nene, but nothing worked against the Hawks.
The picture that accompanies this story tells the story of game. The Hawks used their athleticism, hot shooting and hustle to outplay and frustrate the Nuggets. Denver once again struggled to find any offense and leaned heavily on Melo's hit or miss shooting to get the job done.
The Nuggets looked good in spurts ... Birdman found Billups on a pretty bounce pass for an And1 layup, but Denver was down 46-34 at that point already. The Nuggets played unselfish, but thing just were not consistently clicking for the Nuggets.
The small ball lineup inserted by coach Karl didn't seem to help things for a team that has been struggling to rebound the ball. With just Nene on the floor with four guards (Afflalo essentially playing power forward with Lawson, A.C. and Billups) Denver couldn't prevent Atlanta from getting to the rack and the Nuggets had virtually no shot at offensive rebounds.
I liked Balkman and Graham starting the game ... it seemed to be working all right at the outset as Graham had an offensive tip-in and Balkman was fed the ball on the baseline for a wide open layup, but whether it was Graham's health or Karl's mistrust of the players on the floor, the lineup didn't last very long.
The two biggest road tests for the Nuggets thus far on this roadtrip have been a complete disaster. The Bulls have shown that even though Ben Gordan left, they are still going to battle for a playoff spot in the East. The good news for the Nuggets is that even though they are on a two game losing streak, they do get a shot in the arm with J.R. Smith's expected return (after a seven game suspension).
Two losses over the weekend stings a bit, but Denver is 5-2 and still has a shot to salvage this season long road trip with two more games to be played. It's just too bad J.R. isn't a sweet shooting seven-footer.
Photo courtesy AP Photos: Gregory Smith