Nuggets hope to bounce back against struggling Hawks
The Nuggets (17-8) have won seven of their last eight games, including four of five on their five-game road swing, which ends in Atlanta. Denver had its seven-game winning streak broken in a 113-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.
The Hawks (5-20) have dropped four straight games since winning back-to-back games. Atlanta showed great resolve against Washington on Wednesday when the Hawks cut a 25-point lead to seven in the fourth quarter before eventually losing 131-117.
Atlanta continues to put a lot of responsibility on first-round pick Trae Young, who has been prone to poor shooting spurts and turnovers. He scored 14 points (on 4-of-13 shooting) and had five assists and six turnovers against the Wizards.
“To me, that was one of his better floor games,” coach Lloyd Pierce said.
The Hawks will be without forward Taurean Prince for three weeks with a left ankle injury, meaning there will be more offensive expectations on John Collins and Young. Collins had a career-high 26 points and a season-high 14 rebounds on Wednesday and has three straight double-doubles. Over the last three games, Collins is averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Denver had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night in the loss to Charlotte, making only 38.6 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent of its 3-pointers. Center Nikola Jokic, who has two triple-doubles this season, had a poor start and finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds against the Hornets.
The Nuggets feature athletic forward Juancho Hernangomez, who is a nightmare for the Hawks to guard. The Spaniard averages only 9.5 points, but went off for 25 points and nine rebounds in the first meeting with Denver. The other problem for Atlanta is Paul Millsap, who spent four productive seasons with the Hawks. Millsap is averaging 13.5 points and has had at least 14 points and five rebounds in 11 of the last 21 games. However, Millsap hurt his right foot in the second half on Friday and did not return.
“No excuses,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “If Paul’s not able to go on Saturday, that’s an opportunity for somebody else. And that means somebody else moves into the lineup. That means that somebody else gets an opportunity off the bench. We can’t worry about it and make excuses. We’ve got to find ways and solutions.”
This the fourth back-to-back for the Nuggets. They won both ends of the previous three, most recently Nov. 23-24 against the Magic and Thunder. But they need a win against the Hawks to get a split.
This will be the final meeting between the two teams this season. Denver won 138-93 on Nov. 15 in one of the worst games Atlanta has played this season. The two teams split last season, each winning on the opponent’s court.
Denver guard Gary Harris has missed the last two games with a right hip injury.
Atlanta point guard Jeremy Lin continues to deal with lower back issues that caused him to miss one game and limited him to four minutes against the Wizards.