ATLANTA, GA. – The Nuggets enter tonight’s game at Atlanta with hope. They are looking for their first road win of the season, and understand that staying away from a bad quarter is the quickest way to get there.
“When you take a step back, we’re 1-3 but we have 78 games to go,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We got off to a poor start last year, made a couple of changes and we turned it around and made a great push at the playoffs.
“There’s no panic, it’s so early. And we’ve done some good things. We just haven’t been able to sustain it for those 48 minutes. But…this group understands that this is definitely a marathon and we have to try to pick it up (tonight) and get this thing moving in the right direction.”
This is the second game in their current four-game Eastern Conference road trip, and the Nuggets have their work cut out for them against an Atlanta Hawks team that is young, athletic and scrappy. The Nuggets have lost four straight games to the Hawks, and, in Atlanta, have a record of just 8-34 there.
So how do the Nuggets get a win at Philips Arena? Start with these things…
Stay in front of Schroder. No player attacks the rim as much as speedy Hawks guard Dennis Schroder does. He leads the NBA in drives per game at 25.3, and that, according to NBA tracking stats, is six more per game than the second-most, which belongs to Houston’s James Harden at 19. Schroeder primarily gets to the rim out of pick-and-roll, but will attack out of transition and Isolation as well. He’s a high-volume shooter, averaging 23.3 points on 23.0 shots, so the Nuggets will have to keep him contained.
Settling down early. There is a lot of pomp-and-circumstance surrounding tonight’s game – it is the Hawks’ home opener; it is the first time Paul Millsap returns to face his former team. Millsap and the Nuggets must weather an early storm of energy, settle themselves down and get to playing their game.
Find a reserve lineup that works. The Nuggets are somewhat at a crossroads with playing four big men – Nikola Jokić, Millsap, Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee. They have shown signs of playing smaller when substitutions start, and there is evidence that lineups with, for example, Wilson Chandler at power forward, have proven to be effective. Will the Nuggets turn to more small ball?
Keep the Hawks bench in check. In Charlotte, the Nuggets were outscored in bench points 49-26. Atlanta also has players capable of posting big numbers off the bench, starting with sharpshooter Marco Bellinelli. Nuggets defenders will have to stay attached to him and other shooters to ensure they don’t get on a roll from the arc.
INJURY REPORT: Juancho Hernangomez (mononucleosis) is out. All other players are available.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey.