The Hawks (28-35) will host the Nuggets (29-36) Saturday night with an opportunity to string together three consecutive wins for the first time since Dec. 16-20. Both teams come in with two-game winning streaks, and the Nuggets will be fresh off of a victory in Miami over the Heat on Friday night.
The Nuggets — like the Hawks — had a terrible February, losing 10 of 11 games from Feb. 7 to March 3, but have recently found a rhythm with four wins in their last six games. For the season, the Nuggets are 3rd in the NBA in pace at 97.5 possessions per game and have the 10th best offense in points per game at 103.6, but, playing at such a high pace, their offensive rating is just 105.9 (17th in the NBA).
Defensively, the Nuggets have struggled allowing 105.7 points per game (28th in the NBA) with a defensive rating of 108.1 (21st in the NBA). Playing with the tempo they do, their points per game allowed are a bit inflated, but they have struggled — particularly defending the paint. The Nuggets are 24th in the NBA against post-ups, allowing 0.9 points per possession (per Synergy Sports). Kenneth Faried and JJ Hickson both struggle defending the post and Timofey Mozgov has been inconsistent as a defensive presence at the rim.
Lacking a rim protector, the Nuggets have also struggled against pick-and-roll ball-handlers, allowing 0.84 points per possession (27th in the NBA). Jeff Teague had a big second half against the Bucks on Thursday night, finding success being aggressive and penetrating the defense. Against the Nuggets he will have opportunities to do the same, and if he can play with an aggressive mentality he could find a lot of success in the pick-and-roll game.
The Nuggets offense is led by Ty Lawson, who is averaging 18.6 points per game and 9.0 assists per game. Lawson’s speed sets the tone for their up-tempo attack. Lawson forces 1.5 steals per game, and with his speed he is able to convert those steals into fast-break points extremely quickly. In the halfcourt, Denver is an average team with strengths in pick-and-roll ball-handling — led by Lawson — (8th in the NBA) and spot-up shooting (13th in the NBA). Randy Foye and Wilson Chandler provide three-point shooting threats on the wing and are excellent running the floor in transition.
The Hawks — who always place an emphasis on playing with pace — do not have to slow the game down, but rather play with pace under control. Against the Bucks, the Hawks had 19 turnovers — 13 live-ball — that led to 24 Milwaukee points. The Nuggets thrive in transition, and when their transition offense fuels their half-court pace, so limiting those opportunities is crucial for the Hawks’ success. On defense, the Hawks will need to keep a defender between Lawson and the basket on pick-and-rolls and be crisp with their rotations out onto spot-up shooters.
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