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Preview: Nuggets host Hawks and look to clip their wings

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The Hawks are 20 games under .500, but Denver can struggle with the easy ones

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks have lost 10 straight on the road, and the Denver Nuggets are hoping to make that 11 straight tonight at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets just finished losing to the Sacramento Kings (terrible) and the Golden State Warriors (understandable) and should not be in the mood to overlook the lowly Hawks, but early focus has been a problem for Denver this year.

The Hawks are climbing back to health, with only Deandre’ Bembry as a definite injury loss for this game, and they’re a team desperate for a win on the road. Dennis Schroder is the hub of their offense, taking 17 shots and dishing out 6.5 assists a game, but Denver is deep enough that no team with just one lead dog should be able to take them at home. Let’s hope the Nuggets remember that tonight.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (21-19) vs Atlanta Hawks (10-30)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude radio AM 950

Rival blog: Peachtree Hoops

Injury Report

Paul Millsap - out (wrist), DeAndre’ Bembry - out (groin), Dewayne Dedmon - probable (leg), Mike Muscala - probable (ankle), Taurean Prince - probable (finger)

Three Things to Watch

Can Denver show up in the first quarter? There’s no reason this has to be a 4-quarter game unless Denver allows it to be with a slow start. The Hawks are a good-shooting three-point team and if Denver lets them get comfortable behind the arc in the early going, Atlanta could hang around long enough to get confident. Closing out on shooters and finishing in the paint would be an excellent recipe for a hot start.

Take care of the ball. The Hawks are third in the league in opponent turnovers, and as Denver showed against the Kings it’s hard to win if you never have the ball long enough to take shots. Atlanta doesn’t take care of the ball particularly well either, but the Nuggets cannot afford to have a huge turnover discrepancy in this game. Take care of the ball, don’t give Atlanta extra opportunities to stay in the game, and things should go well.

Keep feeding Jokic. Nikola Jokic had his first triple-double of the season against the Golden State Warriors, shaking off the doldrums of the New Year and getting down to business. Denver should make sure to feed him in the paint and not out by the three point line. The Hawks are poor rebounders and the Dewayne Dedmon / Miles Plumlee center tandem should not hold down Denver’s best player. If someone will sit on John Collins and Denver’s guards rebound, the offense should have plenty of opportunities to get the right looks and finish strong.

Prediction: Denver should be annoyed after their road trip, and ready to put a full game together against a rebuilding team coming up to altitude. 115-101, Nuggets.