Nuggets 100, Hawks 90
Nuggets coach George Karl trotted out different lineups until something finally clicked.
That will be his plan from here on.
With a new cast of characters and the postseason drawing near, Karl doesn't have time to do anything but adjust on the fly.
The reserve tandem of J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton worked on Monday night, helping Denver rally for a 100-90 victory over the Atlanta Hawks and the Nuggets' third win in four games since the deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York.
Smith had 19 points and Felton added 15 as the Nuggets used a 8-0 surge early in the fourth quarter to pull away from the road-weary Hawks.
The new identity of the Nuggets has become their ability to interchange parts at any time.
Danilo Gallinari missed the game with a broken left big toe - which could sideline him up to 10 days - and Smith stepped up. Ty Lawson was fatigued by the flu midway through the game and Felton filled in.
''When I feel I have a team that can win the game, they're probably going to stay on the court,'' Karl said. ''As the game goes down to the end, there's a lot of guys I can finish with. They're going to have to live with my decision. Hopefully, be enthusiastic about it.''
Smith put the finishing touches on the win as he tipped in an alley-oop pass from Felton with 1:34 remaining to give the Nuggets a 10-point lead.
But that play may have come at a cost - Smith was hobbling around after the game, his left knee aching.
''Not used to jumping off my left leg as much. Really strained it a little,'' he said.
Smith also took a hard fall in the second quarter after being knocked off balance by Damien Wilkins on a drive to the hoop. Smith limped around for a few minutes, favoring his left hip, yet didn't leave the floor.
Especially not now, with Karl trusting him more.
''Feels great to be out there,'' Smith said. ''I can't complain. We're winning so that's all that matters.''
Smith wasn't the only one banged up on the second-quarter play as Josh Smith hurt his right knee in the aftermath of the collision. He did not return for the second half and will be re-evaluated when the Hawks return to Atlanta.
''It's kind of frustrating but I can't control injuries,'' said Josh Smith, who scored 10 points in more than 13 minutes.
''It's acceptable,'' Hawks coach Larry Drew said of the trip. ''It could have been a lot worse. That's what I told the guys. We're still in a position where we can control our own destiny.''
Although the Hawks played the night before, they stayed with the Nuggets until they ran out of steam in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets used a 16-7 run to seal the win.
The Hawks were without guard Kirk Hinrich, who was scratched just before tipoff with a sore right calf.
With Gallinari out for at least a week, Karl will have to remain creative with his lineups, which he did at times Monday by going with four guards.
All part of learning on the run.
''A lot of lineups can work,'' Felton said. ''We've got a deep team. It will take (Karl) a while, but I know coach is a great coach. ... He'll figure it out.''
The news of Gallinari's injury was a setback to the Nuggets, who figured to have the 22-year-old forward back Wednesday against Charlotte.
Gallinari was acquired by the Nuggets in the blockbuster deal that sent Chauncey Billups and Anthony to the Knicks. He had two points in his debut with Denver last Thursday in a win over Boston, before erupting for 30 at Portland on Friday, one shy of tying his career high.
Asked after morning practice how much pressure it was to replace a player such as Anthony, Gallinari shrugged and responded: ''Melo is a superstar. I'm not a superstar. I'm a normal player that can help the team win. That's it.''
Hinrich has played in two games for Atlanta since the trade with Washington last week. He had eight points in more than 29 minutes during a win at Portland on Sunday night.
With a few days between games, Gallinari took a tour of the Mile High City - sore toe and all. He explored different parts of town for potential houses and dined at some local Italian restaurants.
And while he was occasionally recognized, it was nothing compared to a stroll along Times Square.
''The pace is completely different from New York,'' Gallinari said. ''I like it.''
Notes: The Hawks were the only team the Nuggets had yet to face this season. The two meet again March 16 in Atlanta. ... Nuggets F Kenyon Martin finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while F Wilson Chandler added 15. ... The Nuggets had a season-low six turnovers.