Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks ended their four-game losing streak and got their biggest win of the season by defeating the Denver Nuggets 106-98 at State Farm Arena on Saturday.
This season has been an ongoing struggle for the Hawks. Their 5-20 record entering Saturday was tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for worst in the Eastern Conference, and they dropped 14 of their previous 16 games.
A matchup with the Western Conference-leading Nuggets didn't seem like a time for Atlanta to turn things around.
The Hawks were able to get the win despite Young scoring just nine points with four assists and four turnovers. John Collins is emerging as a reliable offensive force. The second-year forward scored a career-high 30 points and has made at least 60 percent of his shots in four straight games.
Nuggets Need Jamal Murray to Take Reins After Millsap, Harris Injuries
Paul Millsap (foot) and Gary Harris (hip) are both expected to miss significant stints, and head coach Mike Malone didn't have much time to get his team back on track following Friday's 113-107 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
After seizing a 10-point lead following the first quarter, the Nuggets felt Millsap and Harris' absences.
Nikola Jokic was terrific in his attempt to carry the offense, as he had 24 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. His teammates shot a combined 27-of-80 from the field, though.
Jokic has evolved into one of the league's most versatile big men thanks to his incredible vision and passing skills, which were on display against the Hawks:
Jokic is the one steady presence for the Nuggets, especially as they enter an uncertain period. Still, they have been one of the NBA's most balanced teams. The Nuggets are the only Western Conference squad ranked in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, per ESPN.com, and they entered Saturday with seven players who averaged at least nine points and played at least 21 games.
But Jokic needs a partner. Jamal Murray has to become a go-to option for Malone until Millsap and Harris can return. He's their leading scorer at 18.0 points per game before Saturday, but he isn't efficient with a 41.8 shooting percentage.
Despite that, Murray had his second-lowest scoring game of the season with four points against a Hawks defense that allows a league-worst 119 points per contest.
Things will only get more difficult for the Nuggets, whose next three games are against the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors. Those three teams all rank among the top five in defensive efficiency.
Coming off a close loss to the Hornets, Denver had an opportunity to right the ship. Instead, it will head home with more reasons to be concerned about what the next few weeks will look like.
The Nuggets have an off day before they return home to host the Grizzlies on Monday. The Hawks will travel to Texas for a game against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.