The Denver Nuggets have dropped back-to-back games with Chauncey Billups(notes) out of the lineup, but they’re certain to get a boost Wednesday night regardless of whether their star point guard is able to return.
On the heels of an unsuccessful road trip, the Nuggets will put the NBA’s best home record on the line against the emerging Atlanta Hawks, who handed Denver its most lopsided loss of the season last month.
A groin strain sidelined Billups for the first time this season at New Orleans on Friday, and he was out again Sunday at Memphis as the Nuggets failed to overcome a slow start and lost 102-96.
Rookie Ty Lawson(notes) got a chance to start in Billups’ place against the Grizzlies, but was 0 of 3 from the field and did not score while tallying just two assists in 18 minutes. Veteran Anthony Carter(notes), Friday’s starter, ran the point for most of the game.
“We’re a little short-handed,” Denver coach George Karl said. “It seems like, right now, any time we lose one of our top four or five guys, it doesn’t seem like we get a lightning bolt from the change.”
It’s unclear if Billups will remain out Wednesday. If he does, the Nuggets (19-9) may need another strong performance from Carmelo Anthony(notes), who raised his league-leading scoring average to 30.5 with a 41-point effort against the Grizzlies.
Even that wasn’t enough for a win, but perhaps a return home will be. Denver is 12-1 at the Pepsi Center, scoring at least 100 points in all of those games with a shocking 106-100 loss to Minnesota on Nov. 29 the only blemish.
The Nuggets hope to return the favor after Atlanta was dominant on its home court Nov. 7, handing Denver a 125-100 loss. Seven Hawks scored at least 11 points in that game as the team shot 51.7 percent from the field.
Smith was injured when Atlanta visited Denver last season, but the Hawks nearly won. They fell 110-109 as Billups sparked the Nuggets with 33 points.
The Hawks (20-7) were 16-25 on the road in 2008-09, but are 8-5 outside of Georgia this season after Tuesday night’s 112-87 victory at Minnesota. They’ve matched the 1986-87 team for the best 27-game start in franchise history.
“We started with a bunch of babies six years ago, 18, 19, 20-year-old kids, and they’ve grown,” coach Mike Woodson said of a group that includes Smith, Joe Johnson(notes) and Marvin Williams(notes). “The ownership has given me the latitude to continue to coach this team and our core guys have been together now four years and that makes a big difference.”
While beating the lowly Timberwolves was no shocking development, Atlanta’s resume already includes wins at Boston and Dallas. The Hawks had won six straight overall before a 101-98 loss Saturday at Chicago to open this road trip.
“We should have won in Chicago. We let that game slip away from us,” Smith told the NBA’s official Web site. “So we should be 21-6, but it is still a great start. That’s what is great about this team, whenever we lose we shrug it off and try to get back on to a winning streak.”