Hawks-Nuggets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 04, 2013
The Denver Nuggets are one of the highest scoring teams in the NBA, and their bench is a big reason they seem headed for a 10th straight trip to the playoffs. Playing at home is also a big help. The Nuggets look for another strong effort from the bench Monday night, when they go for their longest single-season home winning streak in eight years against the Atlanta Hawks. Denver (38-22) ranks third in the NBA with 105.5 points per game, and the bench contributes regularly - also ranking third with an average of 39.9 points. That's been key to the Nuggets entering this contest fifth in the Western Conference, eight games clear of the postseason cutoff. They've strengthened their position with a four-game winning streak during which they've averaged 112.0 points - 46.5 coming from their reserves. While starting guard Ty Lawson hit the decisive jumper with 0.2 seconds left to clinch Friday's 105-103 win over Northwest Division-leading Oklahoma City, Wilson Chandler sparked the charge by Denver's reserves, scoring a career high-tying 35 points as they outscored Oklahoma City's bench counterparts 71-11. "Honestly, I thought I'd have a pretty good night but 35? No," said Chandler, who averages 11.3 points and scored 30 combined in the two previous games starting in place of the injured Danilo Gallinari. "I was playing in my rhythm and taking open shots." Denver's 10-game home win streak is its longest in a single season at home since reeling off 12 in a row from March 16-April 19, 2005. Gallinari leads the way with a career-high 16.7 points per game, but he's looking for improvement after making just 2 of 7 from the floor to finish with seven on Friday in his return from a thigh bruise. Lawson made 5 of 14 from the floor, totaling 11 points after averaging 26.1 over the previous eight contests. He scored a season-high 32 while connecting on 12 of 16 from the floor, including all five from long range, while adding seven assists and five steals in a 108-104 loss at Atlanta (33-25) on Dec. 5. A change of venue should benefit Denver, which needs a victory to match Miami's league-leading 26-3 home record. The Nuggets have won five straight at home versus the Hawks, averaging 111.8 points while connecting on 40.9 percent of their attempts from behind the arc. Atlanta enters this visit trying to finish this six-game trip above .500. The team has dropped the last two games, with the most recent coming in dramatic fashion Sunday, when Kobe Bryant scored the decisive basket on a driving layup past Josh Smith with 9 seconds left, sending the Hawks to a 99-98 defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers. Smith finished with 19 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and three blocks against the Lakers, but committed three turnovers - one coming with 2 seconds to play. Still, the performance was an improvement after he shot 2 for 11 and finished with five points in Friday's 92-87 loss at Phoenix. Smith's 33 points were wasted in the most recent visit to Denver on March 13, when the Hawks fell 118-117 in overtime. Al Horford missed that meeting with an ankle injury, but he had 25 points with 12 rebounds against the Nuggets in December. He's averaging 25.1 points and 11.1 boards over the past eight games.
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