PHOENIX SUNS

Nikola Jokic leads Denver Nuggets past Lakers 114-103 in playoff opener

Apr 20, 2024, 8:41 PM

Nikola Jokic leads Denver Nuggets past LeBron James and Lakers 114-103 in playoff opener....

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

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 12 rebounds, and the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets powered past LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 114-103 in their Western Conference playoff opener Saturday night.

Two other Nuggets players posted double-doubles, Jamal Murray (22 points, 10 assists) and Aaron Gordon (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Michael Porter Jr. came close with 19 points and eight boards.

James had 27 points for L.A. and Anthony Davis had 32 points and 14 rebounds, but the Lakers lost to the Nuggets for the ninth consecutive time and Denver handed James just his fourth loss in 17 first-round openers.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored all 12 of his points after halftime, made a trio of 3-pointers in a 13-0 run the Nuggets used to seize control in the third quarter.

Porter excelled on the court, as coach Michael Malone predicted he would, after a trying week for his family that saw one younger brother, Coban Porter, sentenced to six years in jail for a fatal drunken driving crash on Friday and another, former Toronto Raptors guard Jontay Porter, banned from the NBA for betting on basketball and disclosing confidential information to other bettors.

“There’s so much going on off the court for Michal Porter Jr. and his family,” Malone said. “This allows him to get back to doing something not only that he loves but also that he does very, very well.”

The Nuggets entered these playoffs with bullseyes on their backs but supremely confident of their chances to repeat after tying a franchise record with 57 regular season wins, four more than last year.

One sign of their looseness, Jokic, who’s starring in a teaser for “Despicable Me 4” where he seeks therapy because the Minions think he’s their boss, arrived at Ball Arena decked out in a black-and-gray striped scarf and gray pants, looking like Felonius Gru, the lead character from the movie franchise.

James should have shown up dressed like Vector because he played the perfect villain for the sold-out crowd that drowned out the Lakers’ pregame introductions.

James ended a terrific first half in which he scored 19 points with a 32-foot 3-pointer to break a 57-all tie after the Lakers had blown a 12-point lead.

Denver’s 13-0 run in the third quarter threatened to make it a laugher as the Nuggets stretched their lead to 15 in the fourth quarter. But James made two free throws, Davis had a three-point play and Taurean Prince made a basket to cut the Lakers’ deficit to 96-88 with 7:17 remaining.

The closest they got to the Nuggets, though, was at 103-96 before Porter hit a 3 and Jokic had a dunk off a turnover by James to push Denver’s lead to 12.

The Nuggets are seeking to become the first team to successfully defend its NBA title since the Golden State Warriors did it in 2018.

Denver swept the Lakers in last season’s Western Conference finals, the next-to-last step the Nuggets had to clear before claiming their first NBA title.

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.

James lost for just the 18th time in 80 first-round games. He lost a playoff opener for third time in his six seasons with the Lakers, and fourth overall. His team also lost series openers in Round 1 in 2018 (Indiana over Cleveland), 2020 (Portland over the Lakers) and 2021 (Phoenix over the Lakers).

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Nikola Jokic leads Denver Nuggets past Lakers 114-103 in playoff opener