The Denver Nuggets came into the season with big hope of making the playoffs and if nothing else, being a very tough out in the first round. Four games into the season though and they look much closer to a team that’s caught somewhere between rebuilding and competing. After getting their first win of the season against the Sacramento Kings, Denver has dropped two straight and their overall record has fallen to 1-3. Four games is obviously still very early in a long season, but suffice to say tensions are high.

The Nuggets will get a chance to get back on track tonight against Paul Millsap’s old team the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are 1-4 after dropping four straight following their opening night win against the Dallas Mavericks, but they represent a very different set of expectations. When Millsap left in the offseason it was the end of a roster that was a perennial playoff team and signaled a renewed focus by Atlanta on their long term future. With a roster currently comprised of decent role players in their mid to late twenties (and also one that has been hit with the injury bug early) expectations for the Hawks this season are understandably low.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (1-3) at Atlanta Hawks (1-3)

When: 5:30PM MST

Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta GA

How to watch/listen: Altitude 2 and 92.5 FM The Wolf

Position Nuggets Hawks Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Dennis Schroder Hawks
SG Gary Harris Kent Bazemore Nuggets
SF Wilson Chandler Taurean Prince Nuggets
PF Paul Millsap Ersan Ilyasova Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic Dewayne Dedmon Nuggets
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Malik Beasley, Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried John Collins, Marco Belinelli, Mike Muscala, Malcolm Delaney Nuggets

Injuries: Juancho Hernangomez – out (mono), Ersan Ilyasova – probable (knee), Marco Belinelli – probable (achilles), Dennis Schroeder – questionable (ankle), DeAndre’ Bembry – out (wrist), Miles Plumlee – out (quad)

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs himself

After being reminded by the media that he hadn’t scored in 6 quarters, Jokic responded with a 29 point performance against the Washington Wizards. He followed that up with 18 points against the Charlotte Hornets but there were definite moments of hesitation from the Joker and, given he was scoring at a highly efficient clip, eleven shots was not enough. As Gordon Gross pointed out, Jokic is still working through the transformation of being “the guy” in Denver. Tonight is one of those games where he fully needs to be “the guy”. The Hawks have no one who can defend Nikola, they barely have anyone who can match up size wise (especially if Ilyasova doesn’t go). This is the type of opponent where it should be no doubt that Jokic puts up big numbers.

Key thing to watch for: offense that isn’t so , well, offensive

The Nuggets have been very underwhelming offensively. While it may not be fair to think they could keep up the production on that end from last season, they’ve scored under 100 points 3 times so far this season, something they did only 6 times last season after Jokic was inserted into the starting lineup. The Hawks meanwhile have held only the hapless Chicago Bulls to under 100 points (and they still lost) so if ever there is a chance for the Nuggets to get their offensive mojo back, it’s tonight.

Opening thought: Yikes, that’s a bad roster

The Hawks have pretty much nothing going for them in terms of roster construction right now. Their best player is Schroder and he’s nowhere near the caliber of player to be able to lead a team to the postseason on his own. The thing is though, they also don’t have any young prospects to get excited about either. John Collins is a nice rookie but nobody is picking him to be the next big thing in the league. This team feels very much like the Brian Shaw era Nuggets. A lot of so-so role players in their primes and not a whole lot else. I don’t know how Atlanta tops 20 wins this season. Luckily for them that will mean they’ll be right in the hunt for Luka Doncic, who might just be one of those players who can bring a franchise out of the ashes by himself.

Prediction: Nuggets 112 – Hawks 103