The Denver Nuggets are not healthy, but they are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are two games over .500 at home. The Pepsi Center is beginning to show signs of life just as Denver hits the road for a three-game Eastern Conference swing. First up? The Atlanta Hawks, who are also 6-4 in their last 10 but just a game and a half out of the three seed in the East. Atlanta is coming off a home blowout loss to the Utah Jazz and looking for revenge against another Western Conference foe. Denver’s job is to avoid being the team Atlanta gets healthy against.
Who: Denver Nuggets (23-28) vs. Atlanta Hawks (30-22)
When: 5:30 PM MST
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta GA
How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and Altitude Radio
Rival blog: Peachtree Hoops
|PG||Dennis Schroder||Jameer Nelson||Hawks|
|SG||Tim Hardaway Jr||Gary Harris||Even|
|SF||Kent Bazemore||Will Barton||Even|
|PF||Paul Millsap||Kenneth Faried||Hawks|
|C||Dwight Howard||Nikola Jokic||Nuggets|
|Reserves||Mike Muscala, Taurean Prince, Mike Scott, Malcolm Delaney, DeAndre Benbry||Wilson Chandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Jamal Murray, Darrell Arthur, Jusuf Nurkic||Nuggets|
Injured players: Emmanuel Mudiay - out (back), Danilo Gallinari - out (groin), Thabo Sefolosha - out (groin), Tiago Splitter - out (hamstring).
Key Matchup: Denver’s offense vs. Atlanta’s defense. The Hawks have the 8th-ranked PPG defense in the league but have been getting lit up recently, coughing up 108+ in 7 of their last 8 including 139 to the Knicks. They have struggled since Sefolosha went down injured, and while Malone would love for the Nuggets to get the same defensive stops against Atlanta that they just did in that 110-87 victory over the Mavericks that’s easier said than done. The Hawks gave up 108 to Denver in a one-point victory that the Nuggets are looking to avenge, and it’s likely they will have to crank the offense to eleven to come out with the W.
One thing to watch: can Denver keep Atlanta from having a star performance? The Nuggets like to allow one opposing team member who has been having an innocuous month to completely go off on them, and Atlanta has several players who are capable. The Hawks play a no-star style of passing ball that their own players have lamented a departure from in recent games:
"Until we get it right, until we move the ball every night like we're supposed to, we're going to get smacked," Kent Bazemore said. "We don't have the luxury of letting one or two guys carry the load every night. It has to be a collective effort. I don't know how many times it's going to have to happen before we figure it out."
In the last matchup between these two teams, the refs were the stars as they helped Atlanta come back from an 8-point deficit with under two minutes to go to absolutely steal a victory. Denver has to do a better job of locking up the silver for 48 minutes. Denver’s guards have to contain Bazemore, Schroder and even Tim Hardaway Jr. All-Star Paul Millsap is still Atlanta’s best player but will have trouble outperforming Denver’s front court by himself - so which Dwight Howard will show up?
Atlanta tends to rely on balanced performances in their victories and aren’t a huge three-point threat, which means Denver should be able to work them into some tougher twos if they bring the same energy they brought to the Dallas game. If Atlanta’s players all have average games the Nuggets should bring it home. It’s Hardaway going off for 35 or Howard stirring the echoes of years past and showing up with a 25/18 game that’s the concern.
Prediction: Atlanta owes Denver a game after that last travesty. 112-104, Nuggets.