In the first meeting against the Hawks the Nugges allowed 65 points in the first half, allowed six double-digit scorers, and only managed to finish with five players hitting the box score offensively. It was also not pretty defensively as the Nuggets surrendered 62% from the field to the Hawks while being outscored 24-18 in points in the paint, 17-6 on the fast break, and 19-11 off the bench when all was said and done. Plus, Allen Iverson and J.R. Smith managed to get kicked out of the game.
In tonight’s match-up, and to make matters even tougher on the Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony will not play. He is still too sore to play on the ankle that he twisted against L.A. and Allen Iverson is going to have to pick up his slack offensively either by exploding individually or by getting his teammates involved. In addition to Iverson needing to have a big game, Marcus Camby has to give the Nuggets more than he did in the first meeting of these two teams. Marcus only scored four points, grabbed twelve rebounds, and only blocked one shot and will have to give Denver much better showing for the Nuggets to win.
So, with Marcus and Allen being the focal point of tonight’s match-up, the Nuggets will have to win the rebounding and assist battles to win the game. The Nuggets are currently the league’s second best rebounding team while Hawks are currently ranked 17th. In the first match-up, the Nuggets managed to win the rebounding battle 41-35, but that was mostly due to the Hawks shooting 51% from the field. In assists, the Hawks badly out passed the Nuggets 33-22 with AI only dishing out four dimes. Iverson either has to be in the 8-10 range in assists or score 40+ by himself for the Nuggets to win. Which brings me to the perfect time to switch gears and talk about overall scoring. The Hawks are a team that are not used to scoring above a hundred points on a nightly basis. They’re currently averaging only 94.2 points per game (25th overall) while the Nuggets own the fourth best scoring clip of better than 104 points per game. Whether the majority of the offense comes from Iverson (the most likely suspect) or from a variety of others like Kleiza, Martin, or J.R. Smith chipping in. The Nuggets have to pick up the slack from the absence of Carmelo while also limiting the Hawks to one shot per possession.
This all brings us to some sobering facts. The Nuggets have once again slipped a half game behind the Trailblazers for first place in the Northwest Division and, even though we are only half way through the season, it is looking like with the other two divisions in the conference both being stronger overall than the Northwest that whoever doesn’t win the division may not even make the playoffs. Meaning, that it is critical that the Nuggets fight through this prickly stretch of misfortunate injuries while not losing too much ground so they can still be in a position to strike once some things level out. Teams weather these kinds of storms by beating the teams they are supposed to beat which is how I’m looking at tonight’s match-up with the Hawks. Even without their only All-Star that played in the actual game last year (remember AI was an All-Star too but didnt play due to injury), the Nuggets still have two guys of All-Star caliber and a good cast of role players to get the job done. And if they don’t, no one is going to feel sorry for them come late April.
We need this one, Nuggets Nation.