DENVER — The Nuggets host the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night in game No. 41 of the regular season. The matchup signifies the halfway point between opening night, when the Utah Jazz blew past Denver with a 25-4 second-half run, and what could amount to a potential playoff berth in April — the franchise's first since the 2012-13 season.
At 21-19, the Nuggets sit at seventh place in a Western Conference where the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and eighth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans are separated by just one-and-a-half games.
"Incomplete," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said when asked to grade his team's first 40 games. "I think we've done some really good things, had some great wins. There's obviously a lot of room for growth. We're a very young team, and I think the greatest challenge we have as a young team is being consistent."
Malone opted for an incomplete grade for a number of reasons, but largely because Denver has been without its marquee free-agent signing, defensive anchor and closer Paul Millsap for all but 16 games this season. Millsap injured his left wrist on Nov. 19 against the Lakers, opted for surgery seven days later and shed his cast hard cast this week
The Nuggets are optimistic about Millsap's recovery. Malone even has to temper his excitement about how soon he can insert the three-time All-Star back into Denver's starting lineup.