Nuggets look to heat up again against Hawks
Just 10 days ago the Denver Nuggets were getting early buzz for their best start in four decades.
The buzz has stopped, along with Denver’s winning ways. Four straight losses — three at home — have the Nuggets reeling. Their solid defense has disappeared and late-game collapses have added up to a November losing streak.
The upside is Denver has a great chance to salvage the last game of the homestand against the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night. The Hawks (3-11) have lost five in a row and sit just a half-game ahead of Cleveland in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s action.
Atlanta can be a remedy or put Denver (9-5) in a tailspin. It depends on how the Nuggets come out defensively.
“We are playing very slow, stagnant, predictable basketball and it doesn’t help when you’ve got to take the ball out of the net every time,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “We have some guys that look like they are exhausted two minutes into a game. We have guys on their shorts dead tired.”
The Hawks won’t be a pushover opponent. Four of their five losses during the current streak are by single digits. They fell by one at the Los Angeles Lakers and by seven at Golden State on Tuesday night.
The loss to the Warriors came on a night when dynamic rookie point guard Trae Young struggled with his shot. Young was 2-of-12 shooting for just four points, but he has been Atlanta’s best player in the first 14 games.
He leads the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) and assists (8.2 per game) to back up his confidence. Young told Sports Illustrated that he will be a better player than Luka Doncic, who the Hawks picked and then traded to Dallas for Young on draft night
“The thing with Luka, he’s a great player,” Young said. “I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear (Atlanta made a mistake) all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player.
“But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”
Both are having great rookie campaigns, and Denver will get its first look at the 20-year-old Young. The Nuggets have a young, dynamic point guard of their own in Jamal Murray. He’s 21 and leads the team in scoring at 17.8 points per game.
Murray had a 48-point game against Boston on Nov. 4 and has played solid all season. He also has a backup in Monte Morris who is emerging as Denver’s best bench player. Morris led the Nuggets with 19 points in the 109-99 loss to Houston on Tuesday and played the entire fourth quarter.
After the game, he was a mature voice in the locker room.
“It’s all about taking corrective criticism. If somebody gets on you, we just got to man up and take it because that’s going to make us all better,” Morris said after the loss. “Going forward, I feel like that’s going to be the approach for us. Just people calling people out. If anything goes bad, you just got to take the criticism and we got to move forward and win basketball games.”
Denver hopes that starts Thursday against Atlanta.