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

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

This was 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 just nine points and keeping him from taking a shot in the fourth quarter until the final moments.

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

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

Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Credits: AP News)

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 watch the game footage to improve as they expect a tough series.

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

Expressing the team’s determination, Jokic said they also want to win at home and expect every match to be intense and physical.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham agreed it will be a competitive series that recognizes 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 fifteen offensive rebounds, which resulted in eighteen second-chance points – ten more than the Lakers managed.

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

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets (Credits: Yardbarker)

“I thought we played well tonight, but we could have done better,” James said. “There’s not a lot of room for error against Denver, especially when they play at home. They have experience and are the defending champions, so we have to execute, make shots and defend well. And we can’t afford to give them extra chances.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored all 12 of his points in the second half and made three 3-pointers in a crucial 13-0 run by the Nuggets in the third quarter that put them in control 89-74.

Despite personal challenges within his family, Porter performed extremely well on the field, as coach Malone predicted. Despite the difficult week for his family, he managed to concentrate on the match.

Porter said, “Some tough things have happened to my brothers, but I have my teammates here that I consider 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” in which he seeks therapy because the Minions think he is 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 half-time, but fell short later in the match. Denver defeated the Lakers in the Western Conference finals last season, which was an important step toward their first NBA title.

James said, “I don’t think about experiences. It’s just one game and they were defending their home court. We have another chance on Monday to come back and perform better.”