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Preview: Soaring Hawks Fly into Denver to Face Nuggets

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The surging Atlanta Hawks are atop the Eastern Conference and are now the first team to 50 wins (just ahead of the Golden State Warriors). They come into the Mile High City on Wednesday night to face the newly ignited Denver Nuggets, who will try and improve to 4-2 under interim head coach Melvin Hunt.

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Game 65: 2014-15 NBA Season

@

50-13 (20-9 on road)
Series 1-0 Hawks
23-41 (14-19 at home)
March 11th, 2015
Pepsi Center - Denver, CO
7:00 PM MT
Altitude / 104.3 FM

Jeff Teague PG Ty Lawson
Kyle Korver SG Randy Foye
DeMarre Carroll SF Danilo Gallinari
Paul Millsap PF Wilson Chandler
Al Horford C Kenneth Faried
Notes
Peachtree Hoops Blogs Denver Stiffs

Pero Antic(day to day) - Ankle

Thabo Sefolosha(out) - Right Calf Strain

Injuries

Jusuf Nurkic() - Right Ankle Sprain

Wilson Chandler(questionable) - Left Knee Soreness

The Hawks are the first team this season to reach 50 wins and have a 10 1/2 game lead over Cleveland, for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Etc... The Nuggets have scored at least 100 points, in all five of their games under coach Melvin Hunt.

The Atlanta Hawks are scorching this season, and they have had a stranglehold on the Eastern conference's top seed since surpassing the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 2nd (with an astonishing 24-8 record, at the time). The Hawks are 7-1 in their last eight games and are well on their way, to shattering the team's regular season wins total of 57 games. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is in a two man race for the NBA's Coach of the Year award this season (along with Golden State's Steve Kerr) and has won 61% of his games, in two years with the Hawks. Atlanta ranks sixth in offensive rating, sixth in defensive rating and second in margin of victory this season, bolstering one of the best starting fives in the NBA.

Denver has been playing better as of late, mostly due to new interim head coach Melvin Hunt's style and attitude. The Nuggets have scored 100+ points and 12+ fast break points in all five of their games under Hunt. Denver has shown a new commitment to playing up-tempo again, and the Nuggets are thriving playing at a chaotic pace.

Kenneth Faried continues to be the main beneficiary of Denver's late season coaching change, from Brian Shaw to Hunt. Faried finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds in Denver's 106-78 win against the Knicks on Monday, while shooting 58% from the field. In five games with Hunt, The Manimal is averaging 15.0 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game.

Atlanta had their way in the first meeting with Denver back on December 7th, where the Hawks defeated the Nuggets 96-84 in Atlanta. Denver gave a valiant effort, but allowed the Hawks to get out to a 57-36 first half lead and could never dig themselves out from that hole. The Nuggets also settled for way too many threes in Atlanta, shooting 35 three point attempts and only hitting five of them. The Hawks on the other hand shot 37% from beyond the arc and greatly benefited from Faried and Gallinari combining for 0 points on only 14 minutes, both are expected to start in this game.

Prediction

I expect the Nuggets to continue to play with great energy and a renewed fire, and play a close game with a great Hawks team. Ultimately, Atlanta's stingy defense and starting five should over take the newly ignited Nuggets in the second meeting between these two teams. Denver will struggle stopping Paul Millsap and Al Horford once again, on the low block and in the paint.

Kyle Korver should have a big game and I expect him to utilize his size advantage over Randy Foye to great effect, while leading the Hawks to a close win. It should be worth noting though, that this Atlanta Hawks team just lost 92-84 to a 14 win Sixers team on the road, so you gotta like the Nuggets chances to pull off the upset.

Player to Watch

Paul Millsap - he's is one of the most underrated players in the game today and has been a thorn in the Nuggets side, since his days with the Utah Jazz. He's made two consecutive All-Star games, in his past two seasons with Atlanta and has become a leader on Budenholzer's team. This season Millsap ranks third in defensive win shares and sixth in defensive rating.

Millsap finished with 23 points on 4-5 shooting from beyond the arc and 7-10 from the free throw line, in Atlanta's first game with Denver this season. I think you can expect to see similar results from Millsap in this game, stretching the floor by knocking down threes and overpowering Kenneth Faried or Wilson Chandler on the low block. The Nuggets best chance to slowing Millsap down, will be having Faried run him up and down the floor all night, wearing him down with his energy and on the offensive glass.

Injury Update: (Hat tip to 808inDenver)

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nuggets?src=hash">#Nuggets</a> C Jusuf Nurkic (ankle) said he&#39;s a couple of games away from being ready &amp; he will not play tonight. He did go through shootaround.</p>&mdash; Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) <a href="https://twitter.com/dempseypost/status/575715126889742336">March 11, 2015</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Nurkic said the ankle is still &quot;sore&quot; and cutting was difficult for him, still. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nuggets?src=hash">#Nuggets</a></p>&mdash; Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) <a href="https://twitter.com/dempseypost/status/575715380145999872">March 11, 2015</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Both Darrell Arthur (calf) and Wilson Chandler (knee) are probable for tonight&#39;s game against Atlanta. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nuggets?src=hash">#Nuggets</a></p>&mdash; Chris Dempsey (@dempseypost) <a href="https://twitter.com/dempseypost/status/575718740123213824">March 11, 2015</a></blockquote>

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