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Preview: Denver Nuggets head south to face the Atlanta Hawks

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After dropping their first two games of the road swing, the Nuggets try to stem the bleeding against the streaking Hawks

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets stumbled out of the gate on the Florida leg of their road trip with a pair of poor defensive efforts against the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic.  They have a chance to right the ship against the Atlanta Hawks, but it won't be easy.  Atlanta comes into the matchup winners of 6 of their last 7, and they blew the Nuggets out in Denver 119-105 in a January game where the Nuggets once again struggled with their defensive assignments.

Coach Michael Malone has talked about inconsistency being part and parcel of having a young team, but the Nuggets must find a way to better contain the dangerous frontcourt of Al Horford and Paul Milsap and withstand the lane penetration of Jeff Teague and the rest of Atlanta's slashers if they have any plans to win this game.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (28-40) at Atlanta Hawks (39-29)

When: 6:00 PM MT

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta GA

How To Watch: Altitude TV

Rival Blog: Peachtree Hoops

Atlanta Hawks Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Jeff Teague Emmanuel Mudiay Hawks
SG Kyle Korver Gary Harris Even
SF Kent Bazemore JaKarr Sampson Hawks
PF Paul Millsap Kenneth Faried Hawks
C Al Horford Nikola Jokic Hawks
Bench

Mike ScottThabo SefoloshaDennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mike MuscalaKirk Hinrich

Will Barton, Jusuf Nurkic, D.J. AugustinJoffrey LauvergneMike MillerDarrell ArthurAxel Toupane Even

Injured players: Wilson Chandler - Out (hip), Danilo Gallinari - Out (ankle), Jusuf Nurkic - Questionable (knee), Tiago Splitter - Out (hip)

Key Matchup: Denver's Defense vs. anything more challenging than a cardboard cut-out. Denver had a few better-looking performances to end the homestand, but they were against poor teams that might have made the Nuggets look better in the box score than the actual performances warranted.  Against both the playoff-caliber Heat and the lotto-bound Magic, the Nuggets played very little defense.  It didn't help that their best interior defender, Jusuf Nurkic, was sidelined with knee issues (at the very least) but Denver will face another steep challenge against the Hawks.  Which brings us to...

Key thing to watch for: Commitment.

In Denver, Millsap and Horford got whatever they wanted and the Nuggets couldn't stop anybody with a ball in their hands from getting to the rim.  Bazemore, Schroder and Teague cut the Denver defense to ribbons and coasted to the finish after a 66-point first half for the Hawks.  To avoid a repeat, Denver will need to cut off penetration and deny the ball down low - hard things to do when the Nuggets may not have the best player on the court at any position.  A win will take a team commitment to getting stops and taking care of the ball, which are two things Malone preaches but not two things the Nuggets have been able to do on command.  Fingers crossed that Nurkic is available for this game and can play like he did against the Wizards.

Prediction: The Nuggets can't climb the mountain against the Hawks and struggle to get late stops against a disciplined offense that follows its principles.  Hawks win 110-101.