It is still February and the Denver Nuggets are playing the Atlanta Hawks at home. Seems like just another monotonous regular season game? Not so. This is a must win game.
A loss tonight means the Nuggets will finish this three game home stand with a five game losing streak (yes, I have written off the Friday game against the Lakers and I recommend that you do the same). The Nuggets will be playing without Nene again and that means that out of the three games Nene has missed after today, two of them will have been against the Hawks. Atlanta used a long range barrage to defeat the Nuggets 109-91.
The Hawks are coming off a 108-89 loss in Utah where they only good thing they accomplished was to rough up the man we all love to hate Matt Harpring. The Hawks do not always bounce back after big losses as they are 3-3 in the game after a loss by more than 14 points.
The Nuggets are on their own losing streak and so far following games where they lose by 38 or more they are 1-0. The Nuggets have not lost four games in a row this season and they have won three of the last four games against the Hawks in Denver. The lone loss came two years ago as the Nuggets had a monumental collapse against Atlanta coughing up a 14 point lead in the last nine minutes of the game.
This game is all about the Nuggets defense. They followed up their best three game defensive stretch of the season with three straight terrible efforts. The three great defensive games are starting to look more and more like a fluke. The Nuggets defensive stats look solid thanks to their ability to put forth a lockdown effort from time to time, but Denver has lacked the consistent effort, physically and mentally, required to be a good defensive team night in and night out.
I think we can expect a good effort from Denver as they will be looking to bounce back from the drubbing they received at the hands of the Celtics. On the other hand, if they come out flat I think it is time to really start to worry about the mental makup of this team. Nene is out, Kenyon has a sore back and Melo is banged up, but so is everyone else. The Hawks will be without Josh Smith, who is missing the game because of a personal matter, not a suspension for his flagrant two on Harpring the other night. Mike Bibby is a game time decision due to illness. He tried to go against the Jazz, but was completely ineffective and had to leave the game early in the third.
Regardless of who plays or who is sore I want to see a great effort from the Nuggets tonight. If Chauncey Billups has any leadership cache then I expect to see him do some actual leading on the court tonight. If not, look for more threes early in the shot clock and another sorry defensive effort.
Previous Matchup: Game 32 – Den 91 Atl 109
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