The Denver Nuggets raised their championship banner Tuesday night, then dropped the hammer on the Los Angeles Lakers with a 119-107 victory fueled by Nikola Jokic’s triple-double.
Jokic had 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in the NBA’s season opener. Jamal Murray added 21 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 20, Aaron Gordon had 15 and Michael Porter Jr. had 12.
All of LA’s starters also scored in double figures, led by LeBron James‘ 21 points in 29 minutes — his playing time is being monitored at the start of his 21st season.
Taurean Prince scored 18 points his debut for the Lakers, his fifth team in nine seasons, Anthony Davis had 17 points, Austin Reaves 14 and D’Angelo Russell 11.
The Lakers trailed by 18 early but trimmed that deficit to 63-54 at halftime and used a 13-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to pull within 87-84 before Aaron Gordon stopped the run with a 3-pointer.
The Lakers never got closer.
After James’ basket got Los Angeles within 103-96 with just over five minutes remaining, the Nuggets called timeout and came out of it with a 10-3 run featuring 3-pointers by Murray and Porter to put the Lakers away.
The Nuggets received their gold, diamond-encrusted championship rings in a pregame ceremony. Murray, wearing a microphone, told teammate Gordon, “I might play the first quarter with it!”
Denver coach Michael Malone held his ring up high, grabbed the mic and hollered, “Last year was amazing. We got our ring. Who wants another? Let’s go get it!”
The Nuggets went 16-4 in the playoffs — including a sweep of the Lakers — and finished things off by closing out Miami in five games to start a summer of celebrations from Denver’s delirious downtown to Jokic’s hometown of Sombor, Serbia.
JOKIC SNUBBED AND PRAISED
Jokic may have followed up back-to-back MVP seasons by leading the Nuggets to their first NBA title in their 30th postseason appearance, but TNT left him off its graphic promoting its opening-night doubleheader featuring the Lakers-Nuggets and Suns-Warriors games.
The graphic featured LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Jayson Tatum — the last an odd choice given that the Celtics don’t play until Wednesday night. The slight upset Charles Barkley, the co-host of TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” who apologized to the Nuggets and their fans for the omission.
That said, Barkley opined in a pregame interview that he thinks the Nuggets will have a tough time repeating.
“I think they’re in the mix. I’m a big Bruce Brown fan,” Barkley said of the starting small forward who signed a two-year, $45 million contract with the Indiana Pacers following Denver’s title run. “They gotta replace him and the young guys gotta come on, and they’re going to have to adjust to being the hunted.”
The Lakers, Suns, Bucks and Celtics all got considerably better in the offseason, Barkley noted. But he added that Jokic could be the great equalizer: “The advantage they got is their best player is a robot. He’s not going to be caught up in extracurricular” distractions, Barkley said.
Lakers: Host Phoenix on Thursday night.
Nuggets: At Memphis on Friday night.