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Nikola Jokic leads NBA champion Denver Nuggets past LeBron James and Lakers 114-103 in Playoff Opener

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Peyton Watson. right, reaches for a rebound against Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series on Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver.

DENVER (AP) — Unlike the crowd that drowned out the Los Angeles Lakers’ pregame introductions, the defending champion Denver Nuggets were a little late to the playoff party Saturday night.

However, they ramped up their offense and defense after a sputtering start and edged past the Lakers 114-103 behind Nikola Jokic’s 32 points and 12 rebounds in the Western Conference playoff opener, their ninth straight victory over the Lakers.

After watching LeBron James score 19 points in the first half, highlighted by a pull-up 3 from 30 feet in the final second that put the Lakers ahead 60-57, the Nuggets limited the scoring leader NBA to nine points in the second half and didn’t allow him to even take a shot in the fourth quarter until there was only 1:20 left.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “These are the play-offs. No team in the play-offs, if you’re 12 early, you’re not just going to take your ball and go home. We still have plenty of fight left in us and we know we were better than what we played in the beginning.

“That’s a good team there. They came into the playoffs playing extremely well, and they showed it. “LeBron was on target, I thought he was going to score 50 points tonight with the way he played and shot the ball.”

James finished with 27 points and Anthony Davis had 32. That wasn’t nearly enough to match the reigning champion’s prowess.

Two other Nuggets matched Jokic’s double-double – Jamal Murray (22 points, 10 assists) and Anthony Gordon (12 points, 11 rebounds) – and Michael Porter Jr. came close with 19 points and eight boards.

Denver handed James just his fourth loss in 17 opening first-round games, but Malone said, “We have to watch the film and see what we can do better. This is going to be a great 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 is now 34-8 this season.

“To be honest, we are desperate too. We don’t want to lose at home,” Jokic said. “I think every match will be interesting. So hopefully we will match and be even more physical than them.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham agreed with Malone’s sentiment about a competitive series. “Everyone will go crazy after one game – and give them credit, they kept the service at home,” he said. “They are a strong home team, difficult to beat in general, but at home they are very good… [Still,] we did a lot of good things tonight.

Denver just did more things better.

The Nuggets had 15 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points, 10 more than the Lakers, who grabbed just six offensive boards. And the Nuggets committed just four turnovers — just one by their starters — while the Lakers turned the ball over more than a dozen times, including a whopping seven by James.

“I thought we played good ball tonight, it just could have been better,” James said. “You don’t have a lot of room for error against the Denver team, especially on the home floor. It’s just a team that has been through everything.

Obviously they are the defending champions, so you have to execute, you have to shoot, you have to defend. And then you can’t give them any extra assets.”



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