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  1. “Wait, what’s that? They closed Dugan’s on Ponce?” March Madness continues for the Atlanta Hawks, coming off a crucial road win in Detroit last night. Here are just a few important names that help give you an idea of the mindset of tonight’s visitors, the Denver Nuggets (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, Altitude Sports). Donatas Motiejunas. He was on his way to Detroit, as part of a three-team trade that the 76ers joined. In the process of acquiring Joel Anthony and a second-rounder, Philly had to make room on the roster by cutting a player loose. But by the time the Pistons confirmed what everyone already knew (that Donuts couldn’t pass his physical due to a bum back) and cancelled the trade, the Sixers had already gone too far, and JaKarr Sampson was a free man after coming off waivers. Sampson took the Nuggets’ offer and now starts, a big boost for head coach Mike Malone’s perimeter defensive plans. He’s been in Denver for less than three weeks, yet Sampson is already part of their second-most utilized 5-man lineup this season, producing +9.3 points per 100 possessions alongside Gary Harris, rookie Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenneth Faried, and Nikola Jokic. Danilo Gallinari. The Rooster tore ligaments in his ankle at the end of last month, and the Nuggets’ leading scorer will sit out the remainder of the season. Now super-sixth-man Will Barton (14.8 PPG) is the team’s top remaining scorer. Steve Novak. At trade-deadline time, the Nuggets agreed to acquire-and-waive Novak, as part of a swap of Randy Foye for guard D.J. Augustin and a pair of future second-rounders. Relative to the almost-done Jameer Nelson, Augustin provides a steadier, healthier presence at the point behind Mudiay. He provided 10 assists plus 17 points as Denver blew out John Wall and visiting Washington on Saturday. The Nuggets also bid adieu to forward J.J. Hickson at deadline time. Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo. Both were dealt to Houston and Portland in the past couple seasons. Neither player is with Houston or Portland now. And at the moment, neither are those teams’ lottery-protected first-rounders for 2016. The Nuggets won’t mind terribly if those teams squeak into the postseason party. Carmelo Anthony. He is still with New York. But his former team, the Nuggets, hold a trade swap option, whereby the Knicks send the worse of their own spot or Denver’s to Toronto (thanks to Andrea Bargnani, who has blown through two New York City teams now). No matter how bad Denver’s record gets, they could find solace if Melo’s Knicks, a half-game behind them, finish worse. If Memphis manages to collapse, the Nuggets (Timofey Mozgov trade to Cleveland, via the Grizzlies’ Jon Leuer trade, 1-5 and 15-30 protected) can capitalize on that first-rounder, too. The upshot is that Denver (28-40, six games out of the 8th slot in the West) has a team that’s willing to competi-tank as it molds itself in their bulldog-minded head coach’s image. The Nuggets have gone nearly a month, a span of 12 games, without losing by double digits. While they’ve lost their first two games of their five-game East Coast road swing, those defeats came on the heels of Denver’s first four-game winning streak this year. Just about every player the Nuggets draft this summer will be about the same age, if not older, than Mudiay (March: 19.5 PPG, 6.0 APG), who just turned 20 years not-old. His 40.9 FG% (37.0 3FG%) and 2.9 turnovers per game since the All-Star Break are marked improvements over the 34.0 FG% (27.2 3FG) and 3.5 TOs/game to start the season. Mudiay and Malone verbally sparred early in the season. But they’re bonding, as the budding point guard gets a better clue of what his coach demands of him on the floor. And it’s not hard to figure it out what those demands are. Just look at the sidelines, and you’ll find Malone doing his best Jim Henson impersonation, mimicking the stance, posture, arm and foot movements he expects of Mudiay to keep opposing guards in check. Malone may feel the urge to hop on the court himself if Mudiay and Augustin have to endure the offensive onslaught Dennis Schröder and Jeff Teague brought to the fray last night in Motown. Both Hawks guards combined for 16 assists (and 8 of Atlanta players’ measly 12 turnovers) and 40 points. Schröder was a persistent threat both outside and inside. Teague didn’t have a strong day shooting the ball from the field, but got to the line 13 times and sunk 12 of them. The Hawks’ defense took an early holiday in the first half of a high-tempo affair, the second-highest pace of a Hawks game this season. But with the Hawks down 11 in the 3rd quarter, Al Horford, and coach Mike Budenholzer’s Hack-A-Dre strategy, took the game over. Al’s solid shooting display (9-for-15 FGs) picked up right where Paul Millsap (10 first-quarter points @ DET; team-high 22 points @ DEN on Jan. 25) cooled off, and made Andre Drummond’s 18-and-18 (8 of those points on 17 free throw attempts) look almost negligible. For Atlanta to have Denver looking on to the next one, they’ll need to assign bodies fullcourt to Faried (last 7 games: 15.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 4.6 offensive, 63.5 FG%), who lives for shots at the rim off putbacks and runouts. Faried (back) and Jusuf Nurkic (knee) are slowed by injuries, but Malone has silos full of big men to turn to, including Joffrey Lauvergne, Darrell Arthur and Jokic. Arthur and Lauvergne will do their best imitations of Faried if their jumping-jack power forward cannot go. Kris Humphries is still figuring out the intricacies of Budball, but chasing after unlikely offensive rebound chances, throws the Hawks’ transition defense out of sync. Hump and the Mikes (Scott and Muscala) need to log productive mid-game minutes at both ends to give Horford and Millsap (34+ minutes each last night) a proper breather. The Nuggets take a league-high 33.0 attempts per game at the restricted area, although their finishing in that zone (57.2 FG%, 26th in NBA; league-high 6.3 shots blocked per game) is less than desirable. The Nuggets give what they get (42.6 opponent FG% in-the-paint, 3rd -most in NBA) so Hawks attacking Denver’s interior for floaters and short jumpers should prove beneficial. Atlanta guards will have an easier time holding back Mudiay than they did Reggie Jackson in the paint (6-for-8 in-the-paint FGs, 0-for-6 3FGs) last night. When Mudiay coughs up the rock, wings Kyle Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Thabo Sefolosha have to be poised to convert those turnovers into points at the other end. Kent Bazemore (15 points, 10 D-Rebs last night) will deservedly sit this one out, as he rests a bruised knee. Denver is 4th in the NBA with 46.1 paint points, and the more Mudiay and Barton (8-for-9 FTs, team-high 21 points off the bench vs. ATL on Jan. 25) have to rely on mid-range jumpers, the sooner everyone can turn their attention to their brackets. Happy St. Pat’s Day! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw o’3 View full record