The Lakers kicked off their 2023/24 season, losing to the Denver Nuggets 119-107 in front of a sold-out Denver crowd who watched their team get their championship rings and raise their first NBA banner before the start of the game.
Few Lakers had a good game, but Anthony Davis was one of them. The Lakers star ended the night with 17 points and 7 rebounds and looked like the best player the Lakers had. LeBron James can still get downhill and scored 21 points along with 8 rebounds, but L.A. was dominated in the opening frame and Denver never looked back cruising to victory.
One player who’ll want to forget all recent encounters with the Nuggets is D’Angelo Russell. He struggled from the field once again, going 4-12 from the field.
While this was just the first game of an 82-game season, it had the energy of an intense rivalry, which it may very well be after last season’s Western Conference Finals. Davis was peppered with boos at the free-throw line, players were animated diving for balls and complaining about calls and neither team wanted to give an inch.
The intensity was up from the jump. Davis won the tip and James dove toward the scorer’s table to save the ball. The first possession ended with a Davis slam. As the quarter progressed, Denver took control and when James took his mid-quarter break the Lakers’ offense came to a halt and the Nuggets’ lead ballooned to as many as 14.
The rest of the half didn’t improve much for the purple and gold as they struggled offensively save for Davis who had 17 points after two quarters and had no problem getting to the paint and enforcing his will. Unfortunately, that dominance offensively didn’t shrink the deficit much as Denver led 63-54 at the half.
There were pockets of promise during the third quarter but Denver responded to every rally with a dagger three by former Lakers Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or a Nikola Jokić finish near the rim. Even the officiating didn’t go the Lakers’ way. Jokić stayed aggressive as the refs swallowed their whistle and Aaron Gordon had an alley-oop dunk that shouldn’t have counted.
L.A. went on a 13-0 run to end the third and start the fourth to give themselves a chance in the fourth and closed the margin down to just three with 11:07 left to play. But Gordon hit a three and Jamal Murray added to the deficit with another pull-up jumper to end the run.
LeBron came back into the game with 6:04 left and L.A. had one more last offensive burst getting within seven, but after another Murray three and a Michael Porter Jr tray the game was put away for good.
Don’t overreact! This was the first game of the regular season against the defending champs on the road, who relish beating this team. Davis and James looked good and Taurean Prince certainly made a case to be the permanent fifth starter with 18 points and going 4-6 from three, but not much else positive happened tonight. There is time to work out rotations and even with a lackluster performance, the Lakers had a chance to win in the fourth.
Things only get marginally easier for Los Angeles as they head to Phoenix to face the Suns on the road on Thursday. The game tips off at 7 p.m. PT on TNT.