Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets defeat LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jamal Murray relievedly raised his arms. His fourth-quarter 3-pointer ended his cold streak and helped put the game out of reach.
Murray and the Nuggets snatched a satisfying win Wednesday night, defeating the Lakers 110-99 to help soothe the sting of Monday’s thrashing in Portland. Denver, now 3-2 on the season, will try to avenge their opening-night loss to Utah on Friday.
As Denver committed defensively in the second half, there was nothing LeBron James or Anthony Davis could do, and the MVP did what he always does. Nikola Jokic finished the night with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists after his Sombor Shuffle over Davis with 3:19 left.
Without Michael Porter Jr., who was out due to lumbar spine surgery, the Nuggets used Bruce Brown in every way they could think of. He had 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. His energy, along with that of rookie Christian Braun, fueled the defensive comeback.
The Lakers lost again, dropping to 0-4 on the season. Davis had 22 points and 14 rebounds, both of which were team highs for Los Angeles.
Whatever message was delivered at halftime, it was received. The Nuggets held the Lakers to 17 points in the third quarter while blitzing them offensively with 32. Jokic caught a pass from Murray, slipped through the lane, and delivered one of his most powerful jams in years minutes into the third quarter. It made the offence more fluid for both stars. When the Lakers double-teamed Jokic, he promptly flipped it to Aaron Gordon for a dunk.
Murray, too, found his stride, slicing up the Los Angeles defence with daring floaters and timely looks to his teammates. Murray approached with no hesitation despite the fact that it was only a flash.
Their strong defensive play earned them a comfortable 86-71 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Following an embarrassing performance in Portland earlier in the week, Nuggets coach Michael Malone was adamant that the team’s defensive audit would begin on the offensive end.
“The reason I say that is because the offence is the beginning of our defence, and we’re dead last right now – we’re giving up over 23 points a night off turnovers,” Malone explained, admitting that there was some concern but no panic at this point. “As a result, our offence is fueling the other team’s break.”
Following that, it was up to the players to protect their matchups.
“Our one-on-one defence is terrible right now,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said during Wednesday’s shootaround. Caldwell-Pope was in the middle of another productive game when he left in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle.
The pressure was on the point-of-attack defenders because, as Malone put it, “we don’t have Dikembe Mutombo.”
The Nuggets had chances to pull away in the first half but couldn’t convert on 3-pointers and failed to tighten a defence that had been leaking since the season began. Denver shot 5-of-21 from 3-point range in the first two quarters, with Brown making four of them.
It was yet another example of how the Nuggets were missing Porter from the perimeter. Denver was tied at 54 at halftime.
Davis had the most impact for the Lakers in terms of scoring. He had 16 points in the first half, mostly against Jokic. With seven assists in the first quarter, James, as he has done throughout his career, was content to play facilitator.
Brown led the Nuggets with 16 points, and Jokic, who played more aggressively than he did against Portland, finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Murray didn’t seem at ease on his long road back to normalcy. He forced his offence on several occasions and dropped his head after missing a 3-point attempt in the first half.