LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Nikola Jokic delivered a dominant triple-double performance as the Denver Nuggets launched the defense of their National Basketball Association championship crown with a season-opening 119-107 victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.
On a night which saw the Nuggets receive their championship rings as the team raised its first banner in franchise history, Denver tipped off the 2023-2024 season with a display which suggested they will once again be one of the teams to beat.
“I think the whole ceremony gave us a boost,” Jokic said after the win.
“We didn’t want anything to ruin our night.”
“The first half was amazing for us but then we kind of slowed down. But then at the end of the game we were really good and we won the game.”
In the other season-opener, Devin Booker scored 32 points as the Phoenix Suns pipped the Golden State Warriors, 108-104, in a roller coaster scrap in San Francisco.
A wild second half saw the Warriors overturn a 15-point deficit after outscoring Phoenix 40-19 in the third quarter, before the Suns rallied in the fourth quarter to complete a memorable victory.
Booker was backed by 18 points from former Golden State star Kevin Durant, while Josh Okogie added 17 and Jusuf Nurkic 14.
Stephen Curry led the Warriors scoring with 27 points while former Phoenix guard Chris Paul added 14 points in his first regular season game for Golden State.
The clash at the Ball Arena was a rematch of last year’s Western Conference finals, which Denver swept 4-0 to reach the NBA Finals where they emerged victorious against the Miami Heat.
Denver threatened to steamroll the Lakers early on, surging into an 18-point lead at the start of the second quarter as the Lakers struggled to contain two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Jokic and Jamal Murray.
The Lakers, who strengthened their roster during the offseason with the additions of Taurean Prince, Gabe Vincent and Christian Wood among others, fought back during the second half to close the gap to just three points at 92-89 in the fourth quarter.
But Denver once again demonstrated their championship pedigree, pulling away whenever the Lakers appeared to be within striking distance to close out an impressive victory.
Jokic believes the Nuggets have what it takes to challenge for back-to-back titles.
“We have the opportunity,” he told the TNT television network.
“You never know what the season’s gonna bring. But our offense was good and our defense was good.”
“If we play like this tonight, I think we have a chance. Why not?”
Jokic finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists — his 106th career triple — as Denver showcased their formidable offensive power once more.
All five Denver starters finished with double-digit point tallies.
Murray posted 21 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 20, while Aaron Gordon knocked down 15 and Michael Porter Jr. 12.
The Lakers’ scoring was led by James, who finished with 21 points, while new recruit Prince added 18, including four three-pointers.
Anthony Davis finished with 17 points but faded badly in the second half. All of Davis’s 17 points came in the first half.
Austin Reaves (14) and D’Angelo Russell (11) also got into double figures for the Lakers.