The Denver Nuggets lost the last game of their road trip to the Atlanta Hawks 106-98. Nikola Jokic had a solid game with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists, but John Collins was the big star, putting up 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists of his own. He was the best player on the floor tonight, a bad sign when Denver needed Jokic to be at his absolute pinnacle.

The Nuggets started Trey Lyles in place of the injured Paul Millsap tonight, and he responded with four quick points but not a lot else. Denver as a whole came out with a spirited effort, getting into passing lanes and blocking shots defensively. Trae Young struggled to begin this game, getting blocked three times in the first five minutes of the contest. Then, it was the Nikola Jokic scoring show for awhile. Matched up against Dewayne Dedmon and Alex Len for the majority of this contest, he did a great job of making his presence felt in the paint. 15 early points nearly matched his season average, and it came from being aggressive looking for his shot.

Denver’s offense worked hard to keep that lead, and the Nuggets led the Hawks 35-25 after one quarter.

Mason Plumlee got into quick foul trouble once again, so Jokic had to return quickly. He didn’t have the same success as a scorer in this stint though, and the Hawks fought back into this one on the back of John Collins and some bench scoring. Denver got a few points from Torrey Craig here, a midrange jumper from Jamal Murray there, but the offense slowed way down. Denver scored just 21 points this quarter and struggled to match the energy of the Hawks. Denver still led, but only 56-51, at halftime.

Oh, and by the way, Jamal Murray got kicked in the shin intentionally.

Murray tried to give it a go in the second half, but he exited early in the third quarter after something appeared to be bothering him. In his place came Monte Morris, but the Nuggets continued to struggle to generate consistent offense. Jokic was solid, but everyone around him shot subpar, while Lyles was abominable. On the other end, Denver’s defense fell apart a bit, with the team struggling to rotate quickly to shooters. Plumlee in particular had an issue catching up to 41-year-old Vince Carter. Denver fell behind in this quarter 86-77, and it didn’t feel that close.

Jokic started on the floor to begin the fourth quarter, but the Nuggets simply couldn’t score until Juancho hit two threes in a row. Still, those were Denver’s only two baskets for much of the quarter. After pulling Jokic and Murray for fear if injury, Denver went on a quick run to make things interesting, but it was short lived. Denver lost this one 106-.

What the Stiffs said to watch for:

Nikola Jokic taking over

It wasn’t always pretty, but Jokic demanded the ball in the most on many occasions tonight. He has regressed as a post scorer this year, but on a team with so many injuries, he remains Denver’s best creator for 90 percent of the time he’s out there. Jokic finished with 24 points, 7 assists, and 11 rebounds on 9/17 from the field tonight.

Containing John Collins

This was a bad game from Trey Lyles defensively as much as it was a good one from Collins. The second year big had 16 points in the first half, showing some range when matched up against Jokic and getting to the paint and scoring easily when matched up against Lyles. Collins finished the game with 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists, dusting Lyles in the process.

The war of attrition

Another starter bit the dust tonight as Jamal Murray went down near halftime. On the last game of a road trip, the Nuggets simply didn’t have it. You never want to make excuses, but the Nuggets were down three starters, lost another one, and have three other players shelved too. I’m not putting too much stock into this one.

Last thought: A good road trip

A 3-2 record on this road trip is solid. It doesn’t matter which games Denver loses though, as long as they won in Portland, which they did. Denver proved that at full strength, they are one of the top teams in the NBA. They also proved that they need healthy players to win basketball games. Go figure.

Here’s to everyone getting as healthy as possible in the coming days, or things could turn ugly fast.