I don’t want to say different year, same problems for the Lakers like I did last season. But that’s what exactly happened on Opening Night of the 2023-24 NBA season. The Nuggets didn’t really cruise, per se, but it felt like they weren’t in danger of losing this contest. Denver won Round 1 against the Lakers, 119-107.
At first, we were getting a high-scoring affair as both teams came out hot off their summer vacations. And then Denver went on a 9-0 run that pretty much put the Lakers on the uphill climb for the rest of the game. The lead would balloon to 18 at one point as the Nuggets would make jumpers from inside and outside the arc. I did say in the preview that Nikola Jokic should probably get his and keep it that way… and that didn’t work out so well in the first half as he scored 19 points. I am so good at analyzing this game.
Still, the Lakers scored 6 points in a row to close the half to cut the deficit to 63-54.
And then Austin Reaves and Taurean Prince scored consecutive buckets to open the second half to make it 10 straight points for the Lakers.
But the Nuggets came back with 7 points of their own. This would be a recurring theme for the Lakers in this game. And if you remember the Third Quarter Lakers of the last two seasons, you’d be familiar with this. Every time the Lakers would attempt a rally, the Nuggets would just put a stop to it. They were in the middle of said rally as the Lakers were only down, 87-80.
The margin got thinner as the Lakers opened the quarter with consecutive baskets again. They were down, 94-90, before the Nuggets went on another 7-0 run that seemed backbreaking this time, with Jokic scoring five of those points. The Lakers never got closer than 7 as the Nuggets were beating them this time with wing jumpers, corner threes, and backdoor cuts. Again, it seemed very similar to their opener from last season. Denver gets the duke and ends the Lakers’ bid for an undefeated season. What’s so funny?
Well, it’s certainly a lot of feeling out. The Nuggets just shot better and we could really just stop there (.527 for Denver and .456 for the Lakers). But Denver had 17 second chance points compared to the Lakers’ 4. The Nuggets also shot 14 threes compared to the Lakers’ 10, which made a bit of a difference (12 more points from three where the Lakers lost by 12). But the Nuggets just played better team ball in totality. We saw a lot of one-on-one from the Lakers while Denver beat them with more cuts than the singers of I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight. It’s not that they were caught ballwatching but the Lakers just have to keep better track of their men. And it’s not going to get any easier by Thursday when they face the Phoenix Suns.
LeBron James led the Lakers with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. Taurean Prince was excellent in his Laker debut, going 4 for 6 from three on his way to 18 points. Anthony Davis did his best to defend Jokic as he countered with 17 points and 8 rebounds (notable that he was scoreless in the second half).
Nikola Jokic, to our surprise, got a triple-double with 29-13-11. The supporting cast got going in the second half; Jamal Murray got 21 while ex-Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put in 20 points.
The Lakers have a day off before they take on the aforementioned Suns team on Thursday night. It’d be great if they don’t go 0-2 like they did last year. But we’ll see what happens then because this Suns team won’t be a breezy stroll at the park. Or the beach. Whichever long walk you prefer.