Halfway through a six-game road swing, the Atlanta Hawks appeared to have recaptured the success that earlier in the season had them tabbed as the Eastern Conference's surprise. That has come crashing down in the last two games leading into the final outing of the road trip.
Atlanta visits the Denver Nuggets on Monday to play the NBA's best home team, which is 25-3 in the Pepsi Center. Altitude, speed and firepower is on the side of George Karl's team, and so is momentum. Denver has won four games in a row, the most recent coming Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Atlanta is clear underdog in this one. The Hawks fell on Sunday 99-98 to the Los Angeles Lakers, allowing five Los Angeles players to score in double-figures. Defending talented point guards has been an issue for Atlanta as well. Steve Nash scored 15 points and had 10 assists on Sunday. In the game prior, a 92-87 loss to the Suns, Goran Dragic rattled Jeff Teague and Devin Harris for 19 points and six assists in 29 minutes before he left with a back injury.
Teague has struggled of late, shooting 6-of-23 in the last two games and recording only six total assists. Forward Josh Smith has been up and down with 11 turnovers in the last two games, and only center Al Horford has been consistent, if not excellent.
But he's not getting enough help. Against a Denver squad that relies upon pushing the tempo, spreading the wealth and running their opponents out of the gym, the Hawks coming off a back-to-back at the tail end of a road trip could make them vulnerable.
Where are the points coming from?
Against the Thunder, the Nuggets' bench poured in 71 points. A game prior against Portland, the starters accounted for 80 points. It's never quite clear which unit will put in the points for Denver, but there's rarely a shortage for the league's third highest-scoring team.
The Hawks' issues: where their own points are coming from and how their first and second units are defending. Against Phoenix two games ago, the Atlanta bench was outscored 57-34. That was followed up by the Lakers starters outdueling Atlanta's first unit 80-57.
Hinging on Horford
The Hawks center has been the biggest bright spot of late, even in the two losses. If Atlanta wants to pull off the upset, it'll likely see a good game from Horford. He's been averaging 23.4 points over the last 10 games while shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. Horford has scored in the 20s in his last nine games, and he's also averaging 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks a night over that current streak.
Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV: Altitude Sports / SportSouth
Odds: Denver opened as a nine-point favorite.
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