Jokic leads Nuggets past Lakers in playoff opener

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DENVER, April 21, (AP): Unlike their crowd that drowned out the Los Angeles Lakers pregame introductions, the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets were a little late to Saturday night’s playoff party.

They turned up their offense and defense after a sputtering start, however, powering past the Lakers 114-103 behind Nikola Jokic’s 32 points and 12 rebounds in the Western Conference playoff opener, their ninth consecutive triumph over the Lakers.

After watching LeBron James score 19 first-half points, capped by a pull-up 3 from 32 feet in the final second that put the Lakers up 60-57, the Nuggets limited the NBA’s career-scoring leader to nine points in the second half and didn’t allow him to even take a shot in the fourth quarter until just 1:20 remained.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “This is the playoffs. No team in the playoffs, if you get down 12 early, you’re not going to just take your ball and go home. We still have plenty of fight left in us and we know that we were better than what we were playing early.

“That’s a good team over there. They came into the playoffs playing extremely well, and they showed it. LeBron was on course, I thought he was about to have 50 points tonight, the way he was playing and shooting the ball.”

James finished with 27 points and Anthony Davis had 32.
That wasn’t nearly enough to match the reigning champs’ prowess.
Two other Nuggets matched Jokic’s double-double – Jamal Murray (22 points, 10 assists) and Aaron Gordon (12 points, 11 rebounds) – and Michael Porter Jr. came close with 19 points and eight boards.
Denver handed James just his fourth loss in 17 first-round openers, but Malone said, “We’ve got to watch the film to see what we can do better. This is going to be a hell of a series.”

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