The Denver Nuggets started the night off by receiving their 2022-23 world championship rings, and straightaway they came out strong, reminding the league of their dominance as they defeated the Lakers 119-107.
Led by Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the Nuggets gained the lead three minutes into the first quarter and maintained the lead until the final whistle.
Much like last year’s playoff series between the two teams, the Lakers had no answer on defense and were not able to match the Nuggets’ firepower offensively to get ahead. Jokic recorded his 106th career triple double, by way of 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists, while his counterpart Murray contributed 21 points and 6 assists.
In addition, former Lakers’ player Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 20 points, as the three top scorers for the Nuggets shot a combined 8-of-13 from three-point range.
The Lakers came into the season opener seeking to avenge their four straight losses from last year’s Western Conference Finals, as the defending champs sent them home this past May, to end their 2022-23 season. Nevertheless, the story remained the same for the Lakers, since they were unable to contain the Nuggets on the perimeter, as was seen in last year’s playoff matchup when the Nuggets shot 40.3% from deep throughout the series. When looking at the box score, much was the same in Tuesday’s matchup as the defending champs shot 41.2% from the three-point line.
Despite the loss, there were some promising signs for the Lakers to take away from tonight’s game, such as Taurean Prince, 29, who joined the Lakers this offseason, and showed glimpses of what he can offer alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Austin Reaves. Despite coming off the bench the past couple seasons for the Timberwolves, Prince finds himself in a starting role for the Lakers, and he certainly did not disappoint in his debut, scoring 18 points off of 4-of-6 shooting from the three-point line. That is to say, Prince and James were the only Laker players who were efficient on the night, as James’ 21 points came off of 62.5% shooting from the field.
Important to note, James, who is entering into his 21st NBA season, only played 29 minutes. While this may not raise too many concerns, in last year’s season opener, James allotted 35 minutes and 31 points, and in the 2021-22 season opener, James was on the court for 37 minutes and scored 34 points. While this could just be Lakers’ coach Darvin Ham trying out a new season rotation, it may start to raise questions as LeBron is now 38 years old and may need more rest at this stage of his career.
James, currently the oldest active NBA player, probably won’t be able to carry the heavy load throughout a season like he used to, especially as he hopes to try to save his best for the playoffs. But if the Lakers want to make it deep into the playoffs again, James will surely need some help from his sidekick Anthony Davis. The storyline coming into this season was that Davis was going to have to step up and become the main guy. LeBron addressed this at media day, “He (Anthony Davis) is the face [of the franchise],” James told reporters. “You look at all these [retired] numbers that surround this facility, all the greats that have come here and AD is one of them.”
Without a doubt, LeBron knows that the best chance for the Lakers to make a title run is for Davis to consistently take over games and dominate on both ends of the court, like he is more than capable of when fully healthy, as demonstrated early in his career.
With that being said, Davis finished the game with 17 points, but did not record a basket in either the third or fourth quarter, essentially disappearing in the whole second half. Nevertheless, this is just game 1 of 82, and the Lakers are known for starting off slow, so they will have time to iron out their mistakes and improve on their inefficiencies, and will be able to do so this Thursday, as the team looks to get back on track in their home opener vs. the Phoenix Suns.
Notably, this marquee matchup on October 26 will mark almost five years since James and his old time foe Kevin Durant, had their last meeting in December 2018, when KD was on the Warriors.