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Hawks, Nuggets hope home court provides edge in semifinals

Denver Nuggets forward Will Barton (5) looks to pass as Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, and Phoenix Suns forward Dario Saric defend during the first half of Game 2 of a second-round playoff series Wednesday in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

ATLANTA – John Collins already has seen what playoff success has done to raise the hometown excitement for the Atlanta Hawks.

Collins is eager for the opportunity to build more enthusiasm now that the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers has shifted to Atlanta.

With the series tied 1-1, Game 3 will be played on Friday.

There is less heading into Friday's Game 3 matchup between Phoenix and Denver. The Suns hold a 2-0 lead over the Nuggets in their Western Conference semifinal in a series that Phoenix seems to be in total control.

In Atlanta, the Hawks announced a sellout on Thursday for Game 3 and said only a few seats remain for Monday's Game 4.

The Hawks have won 13 consecutive home games, the longest active streak in the NBA. The streak includes two home wins as Atlanta beat the New York Knicks in five games in the first round.

Collins said he found evidence of Atlanta's playoff fever at his neighborhood gas station.

“I go into the same gas station I would go into every single time and the dude working the desk wouldn’t know me until we beat New York and now I come in there and his face is lit up, you know what I mean?” Collins said Thursday.

“To me it was a small example of how deep we’re touching the city. ... I’d like to see more of that.”

Collins, the power forward in his fourth season, and third-year point guard Trae Young are in the playoffs for the first time.

“I can’t speak for Trae but just watching him I can tell he just loves being in these type of moments," Collins said. "He loves the big stage and thrives in it.”

Young has averaged 28.9 points in seven playoff games.

SUNS AT NUGGETS, GAME 3

WHEN: 8 p.m., ESPN

NEED TO KNOW: The Nuggets will try to recover from an embarrassing Game 2 blowout loss when the series shifts to Denver. The Suns showed impressive balance by taking a 2-0 lead with their 123-98 win on Wednesday night. After eliminating the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, Phoenix is in command and has left Denver, led by newly named MVP Nikola Jokic, in a must-win position in Game 3. Jokic had 24 points and 13 rebounds in Game 2.

KEEP AN EYE ON: At 36, Suns guard Chris Paul seems ageless. He had 17 points, 15 assists and no turnovers in Game 2 and then said “I feel really good.” That's great news for Phoenix, especially following concerns about his sore right shoulder against the Lakers.

INJURY WATCH: Denver swing forward Will Barton scored 10 points off the bench after missing 20 games with a hamstring injury. He played 16 minutes and may have his playing time restricted in Game 3.

PRESSURE IS ON: Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. After he hurt his back in the first half of Game 1, Porter’s shot was off in Game 2 as he made only 3 of 13 shots and scored 11 points. Porter is Denver's second shooting option after Jokic, leaving him in the spotlight to take more of the scoring burden off the MVP in Game 3.

With starting point guard Jamal Murray out for the season with a knee injury, there may be too much pressure on Porter, especially if he's less than full strength.

Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young, center, goes up for a shot past Philadelphia 76ers' Matisse Thybulle, right, during the second half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, June 8, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)