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Nuggets vs. Hawks preview: Nikola Jokic leads Denver into Philips Arena

The Hawks face an interesting challenger on Wednesday.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks committed a heist in Denver earlier this season and, on Wednesday, the Nuggets will visit Philips Arena will retribution on their minds. Paul Millsap knocked down two free throws to seal a 109-108 win on Dec. 23 and those connections from the charity stripe capped a 9-0 run to end the evening. Needless to say, the Hawks would not mind that type of magic resurfacing in this spot.

Denver enters the proceedings as the No. 8 seed in the West and they are led by young big man Nikola Jokic. For the season, Jokic is averaging 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game, but that does not tell the entire story. In fact, those numbers shoot through the roof when comparing the time he has spent in the starting lineup (20.0 points, 9.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists per game) and that is the type of player Atlanta will be dealing with in this spot. Dwight Howard will have his hands full.

On the bright side, the Nuggets are brutal defensively and that part of that is on Jokic. Denver is the league’s worst defensive team according to defensive rating and, while they have enough talent to make interesting overtures when it comes to a Paul Millsap trade, the pieces don’t fit perfectly. To that end, the Hawks can take advantage on that end of the floor, even if that isn’t the natural progression for this year’s squad.

The absence of Thabo Sefolosha has been sharply felt and he will absent from the proceedings once again on Wednesday. With that in mind, Denver presents a myriad of challenges with their dynamic offense and players that struggled up and down the roster against Utah will need to put forth an improved performance on the defensive end.

When the Hawks lose recently, they lose with gusto. Atlanta’s last five losses include four defeats by 23 points or more and a fifth loss (by 10 points) at home to a Clippers team without its top two players. In this spot, the Hawks must guard against a flop as a small favorite in Las Vegas and Atlanta really needs a victory before heading out on a lengthy west coast road trip before the All-Star break.

Stay tuned.

Game Info

Game Date/Time: Wednesday, February 6, 7:30 p.m. ET

Location: Philips Arena

TV: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Radio: 92.9 “The Game” FM