In the playoff opener, Nikola Jokic guides Denver Nuggets to a 114-103 victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers

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Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets

Unlike the lively Lakers’ fans who overshadowed the pregame introductions, the Denver Nuggets, reigning NBA champions, were a bit slow to get into the playoff action on Saturday night. Despite the sluggish start, they rallied on both offense and defense, defeating the Lakers 114-103 with Nikola Jokić leading the charge with 32 points and 12 rebounds.

This marked their ninth consecutive victory over the Lakers in the Western Conference playoff opener.

In the first half, LeBron James scored 19 points, including a remarkable 3-pointer just before halftime, giving the Lakers a 60-57 lead.

However, the Nuggets managed to contain him in the second half, limiting him to only nine points and preventing him from attempting a shot in the fourth quarter until the final moments.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone emphasized their resilience, stating that in the playoffs, no team would simply give up after falling behind early. He acknowledged the Lakers as a strong team, praising LeBron’s performance and expressing relief that they managed to contain him effectively.

James scored 27 points, and Anthony Davis got 32 points. But that wasn’t enough to keep up with the reigning champions.

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers

Two other Nuggets players achieved double-doubles like Jokic—Jamal Murray with 22 points and 10 assists, and Anthony Gordon with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Michael Porter Jr. came close with 19 points and eight rebounds.

Denver handed James his fourth loss in 17 first-round openers. Coach Malone said they need to review the game footage to improve, expecting a tough series ahead.

The Lakers haven’t beaten the Nuggets since Dec. 16, 2022. They will try again in Game 2 at Ball Arena on Monday night, where Denver has a strong record of 34-8 this season.

Jokic expressed the team’s determination, saying they are also desperate to win at home and expect each game to be intense and physical.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham agreed that it will be a competitive series, acknowledging Denver’s strength at home. Despite their loss, he noted some positives from their performance.

Denver simply outperformed the Lakers in several areas. They grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, resulting in 18 second-chance points—10 more than the Lakers managed.

Additionally, the Nuggets committed only four turnovers, compared to the Lakers’ dozen, with James alone accounting for seven of them.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets

“I thought we played well tonight, but we could have done better,” James said. “There’s not much room for mistakes against Denver, especially when they’re playing at home. They’re experienced and they’re the defending champions, so we have to execute, make shots, and play good defense. And we can’t afford to give them extra chances.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored all his 12 points in the second half, making three 3-pointers in a crucial 13-0 run by the Nuggets in the third quarter, putting them in control at 89-74.

Despite personal challenges within his family, Porter performed excellently on the court, as Coach Malone had predicted. He managed to focus on the game despite the difficult week for his family.

Porter said, “Some tough things happened to my brothers, but I have my teammates here who I consider as family. I knew I had to be here for them and do my job.”

The Nuggets entered the playoffs with confidence, having tied a franchise record with 57 regular season wins, four more than last year.

Jokic, known for his role in a teaser for “Despicable Me 4” where he seeks therapy because the Minions think he’s their boss, arrived at Ball Arena wearing a black-and-gray striped scarf and gray pants, resembling Felonius Gru from the movie franchise.

James played impressively until halftime but fell short later in the game. Denver swept the Lakers in last season’s Western Conference finals, which was a significant step towards their first NBA title.

James said, “I’m not thinking about experiences. It’s just one game, and they defended their home court. We have another chance on Monday to come back and perform better.”


By Ritik

Ritik Katiyar is pursuing a post-graduate degree in Pharmaceutics. Currently, he lives in Srinagar, Uttarakhand, India. You can find him writing about all sorts of listicle topics. A pharmaceutical postgrad by day, and a content writer by night. You can write to him at [email protected]

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