Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the rest of the Nuggets got their rings in front of their fans, and then proceeded to deliver an extremely entertaining first game of the season. In fact, if every game between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers will be like their first one this season, then they’re going to be must-watch TV for all NBA fans.
Although the final scoreline was 119-107, it would be a mistake to say that the game was easy for the Nuggets. Although the defending champs led by as much as 18 points in the first half, the Lakers kept finding ways to get back into the game, even cutting the Nuggets’ lead to as little as three points in the second half. Instead of being walkovers after the early large deficit, the Lakers forced the Nuggets to exercise their patience and belief in their system.
The Joker was in NBA Finals form as he started his 2023-24 campaign with his usual triple-double, finishing the game with 29 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists, a steal and a block while only turning the ball over twice in 35 minutes of action. The Lakers had few answers for him down low, and when left open beyond the arc, he also made them pay.
Jokic certainly didn’t do it alone, though. The Nuggets won their NBA title with fantastic teamwork and showed that they’re ready to contend again this year with more of the same. All five starters scored in double figures, with Jamal Murray as the second leading scorer with 21 points and six assists on an efficient 8 of 13 from the field and 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made the most of his minutes, too, with 20 points and was a big factor on both ends. His efficient shooting plus penchant for playing the passing lanes helped him rack up three steals.
Aaron Gordon, who has transformed himself from a miscast first option into possibly the NBA’s best glue guy, filled the stat sheet with 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. Gordon was all over the floor, doing the dirty work that no one else does. He even had a highlight-reel alley-pop, which to be fair shouldn’t have counted since he was holding onto the rim with his free hand, but no one will remember that detail.
Michael Porter Jr. may have struggled from the field (5 of 13), but he still had a solid contribution with 12 points, 12 rebounds and two steals.
The youngsters on Denver’s squad also looked pretty good, with second year players Peyton Watson and Christian Braun showing hustle on both ends of the floor and ending up with a couple of memorable blocks.
There’s nothing quite like getting your first ring, but I’m pretty sure the Nuggets got extra satisfaction out of beating the Lakers on opening night as well. Although it feels like the American media are trying to force a rivalry, games like this are going to naturally build bad blood between two teams.
The seemingly ageless LeBron James led the Lakers with 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but he didn’t get enough help. Anthony Davis, who was key to the Lakers’ big run to end the first half, ended up with 17 points at halftime… and didn’t score again. That kind of inconsistency is not going to cut it this season in a Western Conference that has reloaded and has a number of rising young teams to contend for a guaranteed playoff berth against.
There’s a reason that the Lakers got swept in the Conference Finals last season. They’re a long way from showing that their retooled roster is going to be able to take four games from a team like the Nuggets.