The Denver Nuggets return home after a close loss to the Los Angeles Clippers to host the Atlanta Hawks tonight. Both teams are looking for some offensive consistency and to avoid the lulls that cost each team in their previous games. Atlanta has won 6 of its last 8, including beating Boston twice, but Dallas was a different story. The Hawks only scored 14 points in the final frame of their loss against the Dallas Mavericks, while the Nuggets coughed up a 17 point first quarter lead with some atrocious offense the rest of the way to squander another great performance from Nikola Jokic.  The Hawks are essentially locked into the play-in with either the 9th or 10th spot, so their goal is more to find the groove that they’ll need to defeat a higher seed in the tournament. The Nuggets will have a top-3 seed with any loss from the Clippers the rest of the way, but which of the top-3 seeds is still very much in play. The Hawks, who have some key injuries, need to work out the kinks to avoid a very short post-season trip. The Nuggets need the win and to solve some rotation questions, with or without Murray in the lineup. At home, this is Denver’s to lose and they are 12.5 point favorites. It’s time to play like it.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (53-24) vs Atlanta Hawks (36-41)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Ball Arena, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. ALTITUDE where available, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Denver. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival blog: Peachtree Hoops

Injury Report

Nikola Jokic – probable (hip/wrist), Aaron Gordon – probable (foot), Jamal Murray – questionable (knee), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Mouhamed Gueye – questionable (knee), Saddiq Bey – out (ACL), AJ Griffin – out (ankle), Onyeka Okongwu – out (toe), Trae Young out – (finger).

The Three Things

The thing to watch for: Nuggets vs Atlanta’s big men

Atlanta doesn’t have the big men to trouble Nikola Jokic. Clint Capela hasn’t bothered Nikola since he was in Houston taking lobs from James Harden, Bruno Fernando has some heft but not the height, and Okongwu is out. The other player with any height is Gueye who is questionable with that knee – not the kind of thing to be bothered by when Jokic is leaning on you. But what they can do is grab offensive rebounds, and one of the things the Nuggets can struggle with – especially the bench – is keeping teams off the offensive glass. So Jokic will have to handle his business against Atlanta’s bigs to limit them to one shot, and also take advantage of the fact that they leave plenty of openings for Denver to get offensive boards of its own. And someone on Denver’s bench (or MPJ and AG if they are playing with the bench) will need to box out and get rebounds to stop from getting massacred in the non-Jokic minutes.

The thing to remember:  This is not Atlanta’s best squad thanks to injuries – but Denver plays down to the opposition too often

Denver doesn’t lose against under-.500 teams very often, but they can sure let those teams hang around. The Nuggets really could use a blowout to rest some starters. Both Jokic and Aaron Gordon are nicked up and could use an easy game where they aren’t getting hit with tire irons and machetes for 40 minutes. But to accomplish that the starters will have to put up some crooked numbers and the bench will have to stop coughing up those leads. We don’t get to watch Trae Young and Michael Porter Jr. face off, but hopefully MPJ comes out with an impressive line after his prior cold shooting helped cost Denver the Clippers game. Denver needs offense, because the Hawks don’t have a defense and are also missing some scoring weapons. Light em up and see if they can keep up – and if not maybe your starters get to take the fourth quarter off.

The thing to bet:  Atlanta +12.5(-110)

Denver’s bench just hasn’t kept leads. Regardless of how the starters to I don’t expect a 25 point blowout or anything, so assume the Nuggets win but not by 13.