ATLANTA, GA. – Given some extra time to think about it while he answered other questions, Paul Millsap circled back around to the topic of what his emotions might be like on Friday night when he walks into the visitor’s locker room at Philips Arena and hits the court in Nuggets blue.
“I joke when I say my emotions are going to be in check, but I doubt it,” Millsap said. “It’s always an emotional time when you first come back to your old team and you see a lot of old guys. But then you’re competing against them on another team. It’s going to be different, but I’ll try to embrace it as much as possible.”
Millsap played four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks before moving on to the Nuggets this past summer. He made the All-Star team every year he was there.
The beginning of this season has been a couple of mini reunions for Millsap followed by this one – the first and only time he’ll be in Atlanta this season to face his former team. In the season opener against Utah, he chatted with former teammate Thabo Sefolosha. In Charlotte on Wednesday, Millsap played against Dwight Howard. The two were teammates in Atlanta last season.
Millsap brings in a Nuggets team looking for its first road victory of the season in the midst of a four-game Eastern Conference road trip.
“You want to be coming into this game on an upslope,” Millsap said. “Losing a few games and coming in here; it’s a must-win for us. To me, everything doesn’t matter at this point. Our team is struggling and we have to get back on the right page.”
Getting back on the right page, in part, means continuing to work towards a better offensive flow. The Nuggets have topped 100 points just once so far, as getting chemistry among a new starting five continues.
“I think it’s surprised me a little bit,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “We were such a good offensive team last year. … So it’s surprising a little bit because we have most of our core back. But, what I’m realizing now is, yes, we have most of our core back but we’re incorporating Paul Millsap; Jamal is a 20-year old starter. … Paul and Nikola (Jokic), continually trying to figure those two out and how they play off of each other.
“It’s going to get there, and we will see the ball go through the net. And once that happens, I think we’ll kind of go from there. Hopefully that happens tomorrow night.”
On Thursday, the Nuggets practiced at Millsap’s brand-new, spacious, state-of-the-art training facility, Core 4, in the Atlanta area. It’s so new that the finishing touches on the building are still being implemented. He’d brought the team to the facility in August as well, when the Nuggets held a voluntary minicamp there after he signed as a free agent.
“I owe a lot to Atlanta, but I’m with Denver now and I’ve got to go out there and try to get a win for us,” Millsap said. “It’s going to be different, on the opposite side. But I’m ready for it.”
And as evidenced by a spirited practice on Thursday afternoon, it seems the Nuggets are ready, too.
“Being in the gym today, sensing the positive mindset, the energy, the attitude,” Malone said. “This group understands that this is definitely a marathon. We have to try and pick it up tomorrow night and get this thing moving in the right direction. But, there is no panic and I’m not going to let us panic. I have to set the tone every day, maintain a positive mindset, and teach and hold guys accountable but keep on reinforcing all of the good things that we’re doing.”
Christopher Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org and @chrisadempsey on Twitter