ATLANTA (AP) Patience paid off for Tim Hardaway Jr., who made good on his long-awaited first start of the season for Atlanta.
Hardaway scored a season-high 21 points, impressing teammates with his defense and all-around play, and the surging Hawks beat the Denver Nuggets 116-98 on Thursday night.
Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague each had 16 points for the Hawks, who have won four straight and seven of eight to move to third place in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks had eight scorers in double figures, including Thabo Sefolosha, who had 14 points.
Hardaway had seven rebounds, four assists, a steal and no turnovers in a season-high 29 minutes.
''It was just a complete game,'' Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. ''... He's competing on both ends of the court. He's making things happen.''
Hardaway endured two assignments to the NBA's Development League this season before flourishing in the start.
''It's tough, but at the same time you've got to be ready for any situation,'' Hardaway said.
The Hawks traded the rights to Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant to the Knicks for Hardaway during last year's NBA draft. Early in the season it was difficult to determine the Hawks' plan for Hardaway, who did not play in the team's first 15 games.
His previous scoring high for the season was only 13 points at Philadelphia on Feb. 3.
Hardaway hit two 3-pointers and seven of eight free throws.
''I know he scored a lot of points, but defensively, that was the key,'' said Hawks center Al Horford.
D.J. Augustine had 17 points and Joffrey Lauvergne had 16 for the Nuggets, who have lost the first three games on their five-game trip.
Denver coach Michael Malone questioned the effort of some of his players after the Nuggets trailed most of the game.
''Maybe some guys are starting to mail it in,'' Malone said. ''I'm not sure. But I'm not going to stand for that. ... I'll just find a group of guys that will compete and play hard.''
Denver's starters combined for only 49 points.
''The last two games our starting group has given us nothing,'' Malone said. ''They've come out and put us in a big deficit.''
The Hawks made 12 of 26 3-pointers.
The Hawks led 31-15 before the Nuggets charged back in the second period for a 46-45 lead. Back-to-back baskets by Millsap, included a 3-pointer, helped give Atlanta a 54-48 halftime lead.
Atlanta led 87-76 entering the final quarter. Teague hit a jumper, passed to Sefolosha for a fast-break, alley-oop jam, and then added another jumper for a 101-85 lead.
BAZEMORE HELD OUT
Hardaway started because Kent Bazemore was held out with a bone bruise in his right knee. Bazemore hurt his knee in a fall late in Wednesday night's win at Detroit. Coach Mike Budenholzer said he hopes Bazemore's injury is ''short-term.''
Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur had six points while starting for Kenneth Faried, who was in uniform but did not play due to lower-back soreness.
Malone said before the game he sometimes has to protect Faried ''from himself'' when the forward tries to play when hurt.
Nuggets: Gary Harris had 15 points. Emmanuel Mudiay had 12. ... F Danilo Gallinari (sprained right ankle) missed his eighth straight game. ... The Nuggets are 12-22 on the road. ... JaKarr Sampson was called for a flagrant 1 foul when he knocked Kris Humphries to the floor with 1:06 remaining.
Hawks: Budenholzer said he started Hardaway over Sefolosha because he preferred having Sefolosha bring his defensive intensity off the bench. ... Kyle Korver made three 3-pointers and had 11 points on his 35th birthday. ... The Hawks completed their first season sweep of the Nuggets since 2003-04. ... Atlanta has five straight wins over Western Conference teams.
Nuggets: At Charlotte on Saturday.
Hawks: Host Rockets on Saturday.