By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- The Atlanta Hawks have had plenty of time to think about their last game. Whether that translates into better defense and rebounding remains to be seen.
Atlanta will try to avoid its first set of back-to-back defeats in more than three weeks Wednesday night when the Denver Nuggets open a season-high five-game trip.
Since Friday's 113-111 home loss to Cleveland prevented them from winning seven straight for the first time since Nov. 7-20, 2009, the Hawks (9-5) have been working on their on-the-ball defense and rebounding. Atlanta's backcourt struggled against Cavs guard Jeremy Pargo, and the team was outrebounded 49-28, with Al Horford and Josh Smith combining for 19 of those for the Hawks.
Atlanta allowed 18 offensive boards that led to 27 points - the last a game-winning putback by Alonzo Gee with less than a second remaining.
"I think we have some tough guys, it's just a matter of when we get out there on that court, bringing some type of physical presence, and we didn't do it well enough against Cleveland," Hawks player development instructor Nick Van Exel told the team's official website. "And we know against Denver, they're just as tough as far as going to the offensive glass, so we've got to be prepared for that."
The Nuggets (9-9) lead the league with 15.4 offensive rebounds per game and are also scoring an NBA-best 18.4 second-chance points per contest.
Denver, though, will likely need more than just strong rebounding performances from Kenneth Faried (10.5 per game), Danilo Gallinari (6.1), Kosta Koufos (5.9) and JaVale McGee (5.7) if it is going to enjoy a successful trip.
The Nuggets, losers of three straight away from home, have given up at least 105 points in each of the last four contests. Denver avoided a season-high fourth consecutive loss with Monday's 113-110 victory over Toronto, but the team is 0-7 on the road when allowing at least 102.
"When we focus on our defense, the offense is great, the rhythm of the game is great," Gallinari told the Nuggets' official website. "We are able to run and play our game."
However, that push needs to be for the entire 48 minutes. After giving up double-digit second-half leads to Utah and Golden State during a winless three-game trip that ended with Friday's 122-103 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets were outscored by 11 in the final 12 minutes on Monday.
"We've got to get better at finishing the game," coach George Karl said.
The Hawks, led by point guard Jeff Teague (7.1 assists per game), can get up and down the floor with any team - they're among the NBA's best with 16.9 fast-break points per game - but they also struggle late, averaging 22.1 points and 41.9 percent shooting in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta was outscored 31-20 in that period on Friday, the sixth consecutive home game its failed to outscore opponents in the final 12 minutes.
"I told the guys, maybe we needed a game like this," said coach Larry Drew, whose team has won its five games at Philips Arena by an average of 5.4 points. "We've been home for a little while and we've dodged a couple of bullets with some teams."
The Nuggets have won four straight in this series following a 118-117 overtime victory on March 13.
Denver had dropped three in a row at Atlanta before winning 102-87 in its last visit on March 16, 2011.
Updated December 4, 2012