The Denver Nuggets hung out at Paul Millsap’s gym while they were in Atlanta and then they got back to winning against his old team. The Atlanta Hawks looked every bit of a rebuilding team which allowed the Nuggets to get a victory in a nail biter because they played a less than perfect game themselves. Behind the efforts of Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Emmanuel Mudiay, the Nuggets were able to keep ahead of the Hawks for almost the entire game but never could pull away. In the end they had just enough to outlast them and ended a multi year losing streak in Atlanta.

Millsap opened the game looking comfortable in his own home with a quick bucket followed by an assist and then a great denial of an alley oop at the rim. Each team used a different method to score early with the Nuggets getting all of their first ten points in the paint while the Hawks got twelve of their first fourteen from behind the arc. While both teams scored early, they slowed considerably in the second half of the quarter. Harris got a few more buckets and John Collins was trying to run the floor for Atlanta but nobody else was converting. With the quarter drawing to a close however the Nuggets continued their focus in the paint through Jokic and Will Barton and led 26-23.

Denver opened up the second quarter roughly, with a blocked shot followed by two turnovers before Jokic calmed them down and scored four straight. Also helping out the Nuggets was the fact that the Hawks went ice cold after about two minutes. Mudiay gave Denver some solid minutes, using his ability to get into the lane and finish at the rim or draw a foul. The Nuggets got their lead up to six before the Hawks finally started making baskets again and with six minutes to go in the half they led 40 to 37. After turning the ball over zero times in the first quarter the Nuggets couldn’t stop turning it over in the second though which kept Denver’s lead to just one at the end of the half.

Both teams continued to struggle to shoot the ball, combining for just eleven points in the first five minutes of the third quarter The Nuggets also, as was no surprise, continued to struggle with turnovers. The points Denver did get were coming from their “big thee” of Jokic, Millsap and Harris but the third quarter on the whole was a prominent display of the current offensive futility of both teams. Towards the end of the quarter Mason Plumlee gave the Nuggets some great D and also got good position on a few offensive possessions to either get to the free throw line or get easy dunks. Ultimately it resulted in a four point lead for Denver as they headed into the final quarter.

Jokic and Barton opened the scoring for Denver in the fourth while the Hawks could not get anything to go through the rim, even the shots that were coming from within 5’ of the basket. Mudiay kept his good play going and Barton also picked up the scoring when Jokic went to the bench. It helped that the Hawks didn’t seem to feel the need to defend Barton if he was standing in the paint. Despite Barton’s late game heroics, the Nuggets kept letting the Hawks hang around. With just over three minutes to go Denver led by just six points before Millsap hit back to back layups. The Hawks got a couple of good bounces though and stuck right with them. Jokic finally got to check back in with just under two minutes to play and Denver leading by just 5. Millsap and Jokic both hit big shots but then the Nuggets followed up with silly turnovers to keep it a two possession game. As was the case all night, Atlanta couldn’t get the shot to fall when they needed it and Taurean Prince’s missed 3 with 30 seconds to go sealed the deal for Denver, they get the victory 105-100

Best match up: Nikola Jokic vs Dewayne Dedmon

Jokic had himself a double double before the end of the first half and proved to be a calming force for the Nuggets all night long. It was a bit ironic because once again Denver wasn’t running a ton of Jokic centered high post offense, but Nikola being the ultra efficient scorer that he is, he still found a way to be one of the top scorers for the team. He also absolutely dominated the Hawks on the boards. The only guy for Atlanta who could do anything to counter the inside attack of the Nuggets was Dedmon. He didn’t score a ton of points but he racked up a double double of his own and had one ferocious poster on Malik Beasley.

Main thing I noticed: Jamal Murray is in a major funk

There was some hope early on that Murray might have a big game after he got four quick points, but as has been the case far too often early on, he went ice cold. Murray has stated over and over again that he is finally healthy after battling sports hernias all last year. If that truly is the case then this slump has to just be mental. Murray is a guy who has talked about how after bad games he’ll go hit the weight room or get up some shots in the practice gym. He wants to succeed so badly that maybe it’s in his head a bit and causing him to miss shots.

Closing thought: We need more of that from Mudiay

While Murray’s slump continued, Mudiay played his best game of the season thus far. He accomplished it by doing two things he usually does not: protect the basketball and finish at the rim. As he often does, Mudiay found no trouble in getting to the rim tonight, but he also found his touch around the basket and converted all of his free throws. On top of that, he didn’t turn the ball over once. He probably could have been a little more efficient from the fiel but really the only major shame was in the fourth quarter he tried to end Dedmon with a ferocious slam, but Dedmon elected to foul and the dunk just wouldn’t go down.

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