clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Preview: Nuggets finish up arduous road trip on back to back versus Atlanta Hawks

New, comments

Harris went down. Paul Millsap went down. Can Denver rise above it?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets will play once again on Saturday night in Atlanta against the 5-20 Hawks, the second night of a back to back and the last of a five game road trip. Denver won the first three games against quality opponents. The last time they played Atlanta in Denver, they won by 45 point. This time, they will be playing with both arms behind their backs.

After Gary Harris went down earlier in the trip with what is being called a right hip injury, Paul Millsap going down with a broken toe is just ridiculous. Already with a number of other players on the injury report, Denver’s walking wounded would compete for a playoff spot out East and likely make it.

Still, that doesn’t excuse the rest of the roster from playing in Atlanta tonight.

The Hawks are just 5-20 on the year. Trae Young has struggled to find his shot this year, and there’s no one around him to truly put pressure on the opposing defense if Young can’t facilitate either. Normally, this would be an easy game for the Nuggets, even on the second night of a back to back. Now, with so many players out injured, this game has turned into a questionable one. The Nuggets will have just 11 players available and only seven who have received consistent minutes this year.

So basically, it’s anyone’s guess what happens tonight.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (17-8) at Atlanta Hawks (5-20)

When: 5:30 PM MST

Where: State Farm Arena, Atlanta, GA

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW App and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM

Rival Blog: Peach Tree Hoops

Injury Report:

Paul Millsap - out (toe), Gary Harris - out (hip), Will Barton - out (groin), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr. - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot)...hold on...let me catch my breath...jeez...Taurean Prince - out (ankle), Jeremy Lin - day to day (back), Omari Spellman - day to day (hip soreness), Alex Poythress - day to day (ankle)

Three things to watch for:

Nikola Jokic taking over

It’s officially time for Nikola Jokic to score the ball like the star Nuggets fans know he can be. Three of the five starters are out tonight. Jamal Murray is shooting 36.7 percent from the field on this road trip trying to make for it. Jokic is shooting 46.4 percent, which is below his averages for sure, but he’s the best option of anyone tonight. He will be matched up with Dewayne Dedmon, John Collins, and Alex Len for most of the night, and all three are guys he should take advantage of when singled up. He’s too good to retreat into his shell as a scorer, and even though he’s an excellent passer, those passes must come from a place of aggression toward the basket tonight.

Containing John Collins

The second year player just had 26 points and 14 rebounds in 31 minutes versus the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. After recovering from an injury to start the year, the big man is averaging nearly 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his first 10 games back. He’s really good.

Denver would have had a great guy to match up with him in Millsap, but alas, injuries. Now, it’s likely that Trey Lyles will get the start, and with the way Lyles has played recently, that should worry Nuggets fans. Over his last five games, Lyles has shot a measly 28.2 percent from the field, meaning his production has to come defensively if he wants to be a positive out there. Unfortunately, strong contributions from Michael Beasley, Meyers Leonard, and Jonathan Isaac during this road trip don’t reflect great defensively play from Lyles either.

The war of attrition

The Nuggets remain in first place in the Western Conference, but they are officially hanging by a thread. This road trip has been difficult on Denver from an injury standpoint, and with a one-point win in Portland, a three-point win in Toronto, an overtime win in Orlando, and a tough loss in Charlotte, the Nuggets have to be exhausted.

It’s time to find out which of the remaining players will rise to the occasion when the chips are down. This game would be an easy one to roll over, even against a 5-20 Hawks team. A 3-2 road trip is pretty good, especially with the opponents at the beginning and a back-to-back to close. Despite that, Denver’s identity this year has revolved around wearing opponents down with constant effort and execution for 48 minutes. The starters have been better lately. The bench has been awesome for the whole year. Now, with half of those players out, Jokic, Murray, and the rest of the Nuggets must dig down and prove they are the better team.

Again, it would be easy to lose this game, but when the Nuggets settled for easy last year, they missed the playoffs.