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AP - Sports

Last year, the Denver Nuggets defeated the Atlanta Hawks twice as part of their surge to earn a playoff spot after dealing away Carmelo Anthony.

Back then, however, Josh Smith wasn't playing like this.

A red-hot Smith leads the Hawks into Denver as the two teams meet for the lone time this season Tuesday night.

Denver (23-19) went 18-7 after sending Anthony to New York to gain an eighth straight postseason berth a season ago. Included in that stretch were victories by an average of 12.5 points over Atlanta (24-17).

In those two games, however, Smith totaled just 23 points combined. In six March games this season, he is averaging 25.5 points - seventh in the league over that span - on 50.0 percent shooting while adding 9.8 rebounds per game.

While the Nuggets were able to pull together after Anthony departed, the Hawks will soon have to figure out how Smith fits into their long-term plans. The eighth-year forward is turning in perhaps his best season, with career-high averages of 17.4 points and 9.6 rebounds. Yet rumors of his unhappiness in Atlanta have swirled, the NBA trade deadline is Thursday and the Hawks suddenly find themselves with quite a valuable commodity.

Smith scored 28 in Sunday's 106-99 win at Sacramento, and addressed his situation afterward.

"I'm here. I have one more year on my contract. We'll see what happens," Smith said, refusing to elaborate. "I'll just keep doing what I'm doing."

His coach, Larry Drew, hopes he'll continue to do it in a Hawks uniform.

"Josh has really been Superman for us," Drew said. "He's been playing a lot of minutes and doing it at both ends of the floor. He's playing absolutely super."

While Smith wasn't at his best last season against the Nuggets - shooting 34.8 percent to go with 7.0 boards and suffering a knee injury in Denver - the first of his three career triple-doubles came there Jan. 23, 2008, with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

These teams are both in sixth place in their respective conferences. Both have lost two of three although Denver has won five of seven and Atlanta four of six.

Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari made his first start since Feb. 6 on Sunday in his fourth game back after missing 13 with a severely sprained left ankle. Gallinari was held scoreless for the first time since Jan. 11, 2010, and is averaging 4.5 points on 5-of-25 shooting since returning.

The 6-foot-10 Italian averaged 17.0 points on 44.7 percent shooting before getting hurt.

"I'm sure he's frustrated," coach George Karl told the Nuggets' official website. "I was going to play him a little bit more down the stretch (Sunday), but I just thought Corey (Brewer) was playing at a much higher level."

Brewer was one of three Nuggets to tie for the team lead with 15 points in Sunday's 94-91 home loss to Memphis. Andre Miller scored 14 but also matched a season high with six turnovers, the same number as Ty Lawson as Denver had 24 giveaways.

Atlanta has dropped its last four visits to Denver, which was 9-0 against East foes before Wednesday's 100-99 home loss to Cleveland.

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