The Denver Nuggets stated their goal was to go 6-2 on the current eight game homestand. Losses to the Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder have made that impossible but the team can finish out their two weeks at home at 5-3 with a win tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. It will be no easy task. The Hawks are 26-19 this season and will be looking for some revenge after falling at the buzzer in Phoenix to the hapless Suns.
Atlanta was the Cinderella story last season, seemingly coming from nowhere to secure the second best record in the Eastern Conference. While they have struggled to keep up that torrid pace this season, the team is still a winning franchise ripe with talent. The roster is anchored by big man Al Horford. Now in his eighth season, Horford continues to be a multi-talented force for Atlanta. He is complemented by dynamic point guard Jeff Teague, multi-faceted power forward Paul Millsap and sharp shooter Kyle Korver.
The Nuggets meanwhile continue to deal with a myriad of nagging injuries. Despite being cleared, Jusuf Nurkic has yet to play after tweaking his ankle about a week ago, Jameer Nelson is doubtful to play with a wrist injury and Kenneth Faried has been dealing with a groin issue. The silver lining to this season's worth of injuries has been ample playing time for the young talent on the team. Against the Detroit Pistons, rookies Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic combined for 35 points to bolster the Nuggets in the win. Denver will likely need another big performance from their young studs to overcome a tough match up with the Hawks.
Who: Atlanta Hawks (26-19) at Denver Nuggets (17-27)
When: 7PM MST
Where: The Can, Denver CO
How To Watch/Listen: Altitude TV and KRWZ AM 950
Rival Blog: Peachtree Hoops
|Atlanta Hawks||Denver Nuggets||Advantage|
|PG||Jeff Teague||Emmanuel Mudiay||Hawks|
|SG||Kyle Korver||Gary Harris||Hawks|
|SF||Kent Bazemore||Danilo Gallinari||Nuggets|
|PF||Paul Millsap||Kenneth Faried||Hawks|
|C||Al Horford||Nikola Jokic||Hawks|
|Bench||Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, Randy Foye, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, Darrell Arthur, Sean Kilpatrick, J.J. Hickson||Nuggets|
Injured players: Kenneth Faried - Questionable (groin), Jameer Nelson - Doubtful (wrist), Wilson Chandler - Out (hip).
Key matchup: Emmanuel Mudiay vs Jeff Teague
Teague hasn't been having his greatest season this year, he's had a noticeable drop off in field goal percentage and his complete disdain for rebounding has been a noted issue. He has however improved his 3pt shooting greatly this season and still has the talent of an all star point guard. Mudiay is coming off one of his better games this year and since returning from his ankle injury has been showing signs that the game is starting to slow down for him. Against premier point guards Mudiay has performed admirably, though has yet to have what one would call a signature game. Against the struggling Teague tonight could be his chance to get that.
Key thing to watch for: Bench play
Against the Pistons the Nuggets bench was nothing short of abysmal, managing a total of 22 points. This was a stark contrast to how they have performed for the majority of the season. Currently Denver's bench ranks 4th in the league in scoring and is led by 6th Man of the Year candidate Will Barton. Meanwhile the Hawks bench is middle of the pack on offense and in the bottom third of teams for defensive efficiency. The Nuggets bench and Barton in particular (who has cooled off significantly in January) should look to take advantage of this favorable match up. The bench is hopefully also going to be bolstered by the return of Nurkic.
Speaking of Nurkic
The Nuggets could really use the Bosnian Beast back in action. Joffrey Lauvergne has been filling in with mixed results. While Lauvergne has had his moments, coach Michael Malone has also stuck with him too long in certain situations. No doubt against Memphis the lack of Nurkic hurt Denver and had he played the Nuggets would have had a much better chance at pulling out a last minute victory instead of Lauvergne getting abused inside by the much more stout Marc Gasol. Malone has also resorted to some uber small lineups that haven't performed well. This was most prevalent against the Pistons where the lineup of Foye, Kilpatrick, Barton, Miller and Lauvergne was clearly outmatched.
Prediction: I like the Nuggets to finish strong on this homestand and get the victory 106-101.