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Nuggets open title defense with dominant 114-103 win over Lakers

Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 12 rebounds, and the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets beat LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 114-103 in their Western Conference playoff opener Saturday night .

Two other Nuggets players had double-doubles – Jamal Murray (22 points, 10 assists) and Anthony Gordon (12 points, 11 rebounds) – and Michael Porter Jr. came close with 19 points and eight rebounds.

James had 27 points for Los Angeles and Anthony Davis had 32 points and 14 rebounds, but the Lakers lost to the Nuggets for the ninth straight time and Denver handed James only his fourth loss in the first 17 first-round games.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored all 12 of his points after halftime, hit a trio of 3-pointers in a 13-0 run that the Nuggets used to take control in the third quarter.

Porter excelled on the field, as coach Michael Malone predicted, after a difficult week for his family that saw a younger brother, Coban Porter, sentenced to six years in prison for a fatal drunk driving accident Friday and another, former Toronto Raptors. guard Jontay Porter, banned from the NBA for betting on basketball and disclosing confidential information to other bettors.

“There’s so much going on off the field for Michal Porter Jr. and his family,” Malone said. “It allows him to get back to doing something that he not only loves but also does very, very well.”

The Nuggets entered this playoffs with the target on their back, but extremely confident in their chances of repeating after tying a franchise record with 57 regular season wins, four more than last year.

A sign of their relaxation: Jokic, who is featured in a teaser for “Despicable Me 4” where he seeks therapy because the Minions think he is their boss, arrived at Ball Arena wearing a black and gray striped scarf and gray pants, looking like Felonius Gru – the main character of the film franchise.

James should have showed up dressed like Vector because he played the role of the perfect villain in front of a sold-out crowd that drowned out the Lakers’ pregame introductions.

James capped a superb first half in which he scored 19 points with a 32-foot 3-pointer to break a 57-all tie after the Lakers blew a 12-point lead.

Denver’s 13-0 third-quarter run threatened to be a laugh as the Nuggets pushed their lead to 15 in the fourth quarter. But James made two free throws, Davis made a three-point play and Taurean Prince a basket to cut the Lakers’ deficit to 96-88 with 7:17 to play.

The closest they got to the Nuggets, however, was 103-96 before Porter hit a 3 and Jokic dunk off a James turnover to extend Denver’s lead to 12.

The Nuggets are looking to become the first team to successfully defend their NBA title since the Golden State Warriors six years ago.

Denver swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals last season, the penultimate step the Nuggets had to take before winning their first NBA title.

The Lakers haven’t beaten the Nuggets since Dec. 16, 2022. They’ll try again Monday night in Game 2 at Ball Arena, where Denver is now 34-8 this season.

James lost for only the 18th time in 80 first-round matches. He lost Game 1 of the playoffs for the third time in six seasons with the Lakers and the fourth time overall. His team also lost first-round series openers in 2018 (Indiana vs. Cleveland), 2020 (Portland vs. Lakers), and 2021 (Phoenix vs. Lakers).

Associated Press reporting.

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