Nuggets guarding against trap from Hawks (Jan 10, 2018)

BY AP • January 10, 2018

Losing on the road to the reigning NBA champs is not a bad thing. Losing to one of the worst teams in the league, at home, would be.

The Denver Nuggets know that going into Wednesday night's game against the Atlanta Hawks at Pepsi Center, but if they think they can take a night off against a team that has lost 10 straight road games then Monday's results should be a wakeup call.

The Hawks, owners of a 3-19 road record, took the Los Angeles Clippers to the final seconds before falling 108-107 on a 3-pointer by L.A. guard C.J. Williams. The one-point loss -- Atlanta's second on this five-game Western Conference swing -- is a cautionary tale for a Denver team that sometimes lets up against inferior opponents.

The Nuggets are going from facing the best team in the NBA to the worst. Atlanta (10-30) is a few years removed from reaching the Eastern Conference finals but is in definite rebuilding mode. One reason is the departure of power forward Paul Millsap, who signed as a free agent with Denver last summer.

Millsap won't face his former team because of wrist surgery that will keep him out until after the All-Star break -- at minimum. But the Nuggets (21-19) will have motivation to win after going 0-2 on the road against Sacramento and Golden State.

The loss to the Warriors was easier to take because Denver played well, unlike the loss to the Kings on Saturday night. It also was a bounce-back game for center Nikola Jokic, who had 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his first triple-double of the season.

Jokic had scored just eight points in each of the previous two games, but the young Serbian isn't worried about his scoring. He prefers to feed teammates than put up shots.

"I'm not going to try so hard to score, just because I think it's not fair to my teammates," Jokic told The Denver Post. "If I see two (defenders) coming to me, I'm going to pass the ball. And if I see the open guy standing right there, I'm going to pass him the ball. I'm not going to force anything."

He might not need to against an overmatched Atlanta team that is most likely going to be a seller at the NBA trading deadline next month. Rumors are swirling that players could be dealt, with Kent Bazemore's name being bandied about most often.

The Nuggets might be buyers at the deadline for the first time in years. They sit seventh in the Western Conference but are only four games behind fourth seed Minnesota, and they are focused on ending a four-year playoff drought.

It would be the first time in the postseason for many of the current Denver players, including the backcourt duo of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. The two have made big strides in their respective games, and Harris has picked up his scoring. He is averaging 18.4 points over the last 10 games and leads the Nuggets in scoring at 16.7 points a game.

The Hawks will have to try to stop him to have any chance to salvage one win on this five-game road trip.

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