Preview: Denver Nuggets continue road trip against the Hawks

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The Denver Nuggets continue their longest road trip of the season Monday when they take on the Hawks in Atlanta. Following a tough defeat to the Washington Wizards over the weekend, Denver will be looking to right the ship and exact revenge against Trae Young and the Hawks.

Denver (24-11) still sits in second place in the Western Conference and is 7-3 over the last 10 games, but there are certainly kinks that need to be worked out, specifically on the defensive end. Over the past two weeks, the Nuggets own the 29th-ranked defense in the league, a far cry from earlier in the season when they were playing elite defense on a nightly basis.

Speaking of earlier in the season, Young and the Hawks provided one of the stiffest challenges during the first month of the season, as they dropped 125 points in a win at Pepsi Center on Nov. 12.

Since that road win, things have certainly not been easy for Atlanta, as the Hawks have gone 4-22. As a result of their struggles, the Hawks are dead-last in both net rating and offensive rating, while they are 27th in defensive rating.

Atlanta has been a thorn in Denver’s side over the past couple of years, as the Nuggets are just 3-7 against the Hawks in the past 10 matchups between the two teams.

Here are the keys to Monday’s contest:

Limiting Young’s impact

As mentioned earlier, Young led the Hawks to an upset victory in Pepsi Center back in November, as he dropped 42 points and 11 assists in one of the most impressive performances across the NBA this season. Despite Atlanta’s struggles as a team, Young has continued to develop into one of the fearsome offensive players in the league, with averages of 28.8 points and 8.3 assists per game.

Against Denver earlier this season, Young shot 13 of 21 from the field, including 8 of 13 from beyond the arc as he routinely carved up the Nuggets’ defense. Considering the struggles that Denver has had on that end of the floor in recent weeks, perhaps Nuggets head coach Michael Malone will opt for a more aggressive defensive scheme to limit Young’s impact and force Atlanta’s supporting cast to beat them.

Can the second unit bounce back?

Against Washington on Saturday, Denver’s defense struggled to stop the Wizards’ second unit, as players such as Ish Smith and Isaac Bonga went for career-best scoring nights. Ultimately, Washington received 92 points from its bench, while the Nuggets’ second unit struggled to keep up.

Now, the Wizards do have the second-highest scoring bench in the league, but Denver’s reserves will have to step up their play and win the minutes when they are on the floor, especially considering Atlanta’s struggles without Young on the court (the Hawks’ offense is 11.3 points per 100 possessions worse without Young on the floor).

Dealing with Collins down low

One significant on-court difference that will play a role in Monday’s matchup is the presence of John Collins. Collins missed the previous meeting between these two teams while he was serving a suspension, but his presence provides a big boost for Atlanta, especially on the offensive end. It should be noted that Collins is currently listed as questionable for Monday’s contest.

In the 10 games he has played in this season, Collins owns averages of 18.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game on 52.5 percent shooting from the field. Collins is a favorite target of Young’s in the pick-and-roll and the third-year big man can certainly compete on the boards for second-chance opportunities.

The Nuggets’ interior defense and activity on the glass will have to pick up on Monday if they hope to get back to their winning ways.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Monday’s game will tip-off at 5:30 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude TV (Radio: 92.5 FM).

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