The Denver Nuggets started the new season the way they ended the last one: with a win. They put away the Los Angeles Lakers 119-107 behind a huge starter effort that carried the emotion of the ring ceremony through much of the game. Nikola Jokic put up 19 and 9 in the first half as the Lakers defended him 1-on-1 for the most part and finished with a triple-double of 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Jamal Murray had 21 points and 6 assists, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 20, Michael Porter Jr. put up 12 and 12 despite a wayward shot and Aaron Gordon was doing a little bit of everything with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and some nice defense. LeBron was on a bit of a minutes limit but still led the Lakers attack with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Anthony Davis was a scoring force in the first half with 17 but went scoreless in the second half, and Taurean Prince kept hitting threes all game to keep the Lakers close.

Ceremony Recap

The Nuggets opened the night with the ring ceremony and hanging the championship banner in the rafters. The crowd welcomed Stan and Josh Kroenke with cheers, and Adam Silver with the standard boos. Silver gave rings to the Kroenkes, the Kroenkes gave Coach Michael Malone and General Manager Calvin Booth their rings, and then Michael Malone got on the microphone, calling the crowd “the best fans in the NBA for 8 years… we got one ring – who wants another? Let’s go get it. Love you!”

The bench got theirs first, including “the freshly shaven” Christian Braun as Vic Lombardi called him. The crowd kicked it into another gear when Michael Porter Jr. came out to lead off the starters. “MPJ” and “KCP” chants broke out for the first two, and then Aaron Gordon danced his way out to cheers and chants. Jamal Murray unleashed a Blue Arrow, and then Jokic strolled out to MVP chants to wave to the crowd and accept his ring.

Mr. Nugget Aaron Gordon then took the mic to speak to the crowd. “Yo, yo, yo…” And thanked the Nuggets fans for experiencing this journey with them. The team gathered around to touch the trophy one more time and then they raised the banner that says “2023 NBA Champions” proudly to the rafters. Nikola Jokic especially took in the banner ceremony intently, eyes gleaming as he stared at the rafters.

Game Recap

And then after all that the Nuggets still had to play a game! The Lakers won the first tip of the 2023-24 NBA season and Anthony Davis dunked for its first points. Jokic of course matched him with a baby hook in the paint. Taurean Prince hit a pair of threes but Murray answered with a layup and 3 of his own. The Nuggets took the lead at 11-10 after LeBron put a 3 off the side of the backboard and and AG finished on the other end in the paint. MPJ nailed a 3 and a dunk for 16-10 lead, but LeBron pushing the ball in transition to keep it close. MPJ had a 3 rattle out but Jokic put it back, then scored the next time down for a 24-16 Denver lead. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope buries a three off an Aaron Gordon steal, and Reggie Jackson traded layups with Austin Reaves. Jamal Murray played with Denver’s bench to close out the first quarter, but some missed threes by Denver reserves kept Los Angeles within striking distance. Zeke Nnaji’s free throws, Peyton Watson’s block and Reggie’s buzzer-beating 3 made it 34-20 Denver after one however.

Watson buried a 3 to start the second quarter, and Braun blocked LeBron’s shot down the other end. Denver bench defense being so switchable is a different look than their Jokic-anchored starting unit and was causing some problems for the Lakers. Reggie Jackson hit a three on a stumbling/tripped LeBron to make it 40-24. Cam Reddish buried a Lakers three, but Jokic just put Davis on his back again for another paint bucket. Davis hit a three, answered by a spectacular near-dunk by Braun that turned into merely free throws. Jokic got a second foul on Davis and then led a break that turned into KCP free throws for a 49-34 Nuggets lead halfway through the second quarter. Jokic buried a three, Gordon devoured two Lakers in the paint for a bucket, but Jokic got his second foul on a Davis shot attempt with 4 minutes to go and Denver’s lead down to 54-42. Denver missed 7 shots in a row before MPJ took it to the hoop and Murray made a soaring layup over Davis who was trying to take a charge. The Nuggets had several sloppy possessions to end the quarter though, with uncharacteristic Jokic misses leading to transition buckets for the Lakers who cut the Denver lead down to 64-53 at the half.

Austin Reaves stole the ball and scored to the the second half scoring, while the Nuggets struggled to get into their offense. Malone hit a rage timeout just 57 seconds into the quarter and for good reason as the Lakers quickly cut the lead to 5. Murray came out of the break to score a bucket and free-throw, AG hit a paint bucket and Murray threw in a baseline jumper for a 70-58 margin. But the Lakers fought back with good defense and closed back to 6, before Murray’s step-back corner 3 slowed their run. Russell answered with a 3 of his own. A no-call on one end led to a magnificent Aaron Gordon opening night dunk.

The Nuggets kept allowing second shot opportunities for the Lakers however, and MPJ’s shot was off after missing the entire preseason. KCP got the home court bounce on a three and Gordon muscled a paint bucket through three defenders for an 80-69 lead even with Jokic being scoreless for the period. KCP had a theft and a breakaway bucket, and Jokic broke an 0-for-7 shooting streak with a three pointer. The Lakers fought back to 87-80 though with another run at the end of the quarter and Jokic on the bench, as Denver turned the ball over with the bench unit multiple time, leaving Denver up just 7.

The Lakers opened the fourth quarter with a pair of buckets to cut the lead to just three before a botched Nuggets offensive play turned into an Aaron Gordon three. LeBron James buried a 3 and the Nuggets still looked out of sorts until Jokic game back in just after the 9 minute mark and buried a three to make it 97-90 Denver. Jokic and Caldwell-Pope worked a nice two-man game for a bucket, then Jokic buried a jumper for double-digit lead. MPJ kept up his work on the glass, getting to 10 rebounds on a night his three-point shot wasn’t falling, and Braun banked in a layup to keep Denver up 103-91 halfway through the final frame. Prince hit yet another 3 and LeBron finished at the bucket to cut the lead back to 7, but Jamal Murray answered out of a timeout with a massive three. KCP hit a two off a Jokic screen, and Gordon buried an easy baseline dunk to go up 110-96. Porter buried a 3 to answer a Reaves attempt to close the gap, then stuffed Reaves a few possessions later and the Nuggets took the win from a game Lakers squad 119-107 under the brand-new title banner hanging high in Ball Arena.

Final Thoughts:

  • Lakers can take that L on the way out.ย They played hard, and a minutes-limited LeBron James came to play. Taurean Prince did too. Anthony Davis didn’t have a bucket in the second half though after going 6-for-17 tonight and “Who’s your daddy” chants rained down on Los Angeles to close the game. The Lakers didn’t have enough in Game 1, but these teams will meet again.
  • Nuggets are 1-0 in defense of their title.ย The bench minutes were ugly but they only went -3 in the non-Jokic minutes. They showed they can play a very switchable defense and as soon as they adjust where they expect their scoring to come from there should be progress there too. And Denver’s starters were magnificent for large stretches, despite some obvious rust. Teams that plan to take out Denver will have to find a way to slow Denver’s stars and the Lakers didn’t have enough answers tonight.
  • Championships are forever. Enjoy last year as long as you want Denver, but don’t miss this year’s edition either. It’s gonna be an amazing show.