Millsap returns to Atlanta as Nuggets face Hawks (Oct 27, 2017)
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks finally play their home opener Friday night against the Denver Nuggets after beginning the season with five consecutive road games.
The early attention of the Philips Arena crowd, though, will be on a member of the Nuggets rather than on any of the Hawks.
Paul Millsap, a four-time All-Star, returns to Atlanta after signing a three-year, $90 million contract with Denver as a free agent.
With the Hawks in a rebuild under new general manager Travis Schlenk, the team decided not to try to re-sign the last remaining starter from the 60-win team of 2014-15.
That means few hard feelings toward Millsap from Atlanta fans and a likely warm welcome back.
Denver made a late run at the final postseason spot in the Western Conference last season, and the Nuggets hope to break a four-year playoff drought this year with veteran forward Millsap joining 22-year-old center Nikola Jokic.
"We feel in Nikola and Paul, we have the most talented, most unselfish, best playmaking frontcourt in the NBA," Denver coach Michael Malone said.
The Nuggets, though, are off a 1-3 start after a 110-93 loss at Charlotte on Wednesday to begin a four-game road trip.
Issues at point guard and a lack of defense are the main reasons for the slow start, but it will also take awhile for Millsap and Jokic to get fully comfortable playing together.
Jokic scored a combined 47 points in the past two games after managing just seven total in the first two. Millsap averaged 18 in the first three games but scored only eight in the loss to the Hornets.
"You see signs of it (working), you see glimpses," Malone said. "But it's nowhere near being, 'They've got it. They've figured it out.'"
The Hawks, who are 1-4 after a 91-86 loss at Chicago on Thursday, were expected to be a work in progress, and that is certainly the case.
Schlenk would only forecast before the season that the team would "play hard and play together and play the right way, and we are going to be able to live with the results."
Point guard Dennis Schroder helped lead the Hawks to a season-opening victory at Dallas, but he missed the past two games with a sprained left ankle. He may return against the Nuggets.
The home opener will debut the first phase of Philips Arena's two-year makeover, which will cost $192.5 million. The team played its two home exhibition games at Georgia Tech.
The Hawks have won five straight games against the Nuggets in Atlanta and hold a four-game winning streak against Denver overall.
The Nuggets trailed 62-39 at halftime in Charlotte, and Malone was not happy with the effort he saw.
"We're not good enough to come on the road and not play as hard as possible," Malone said. "Your job is to be ready to play."
Effort hasn't been an issue with the Hawks. Consistency and execution have been.
"We all understand that we are still learning," Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore said. "Everyone is in a different situation than (in the) past or, frankly, they've ever been in. It's going to be a tough year. But if we can continue to plug away and keep the effort consistent, and once the offense starts rolling, things will start to look up."