It was a magical night at Ball Arena that featured a tremendous pregame ceremony. The 2022-23 NBA champion Nuggets raised their first championship banner, and the returning Nuggets players received their rings. The vibes were immaculate at the arena, and even Michael Malone got in on the action.

After the Nuggets celebrated, they had to play a basketball game against vaunted rival Los Angeles Lakers, featuring LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and several members of a roster that was swept last season on the way to Denver’s title. Both teams were tremendously motivated, and it made for great action all night.

Ultimately, the Nuggets prevailed with a 119-107 win. Nikola Jokić put up 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in his first triple-double of the year.

“I thought we took that energy and that confidence and went right into the game today,” Jamal Murray said of the Nuggets ring night celebration pregame. “It was great that we played as a team. The ball was hopping, the ball was moving. Guys in the right spot.”

The Nuggets brought their A-game for much of the first half, shooting the lights out and rising to the occasion for a while. Nikola Jokić was tremendous, though Anthony Davis matched him on the other end. It wasn’t until Davis went out and the Lakers went small that the Nuggets were somewhat disrupted with Jokić and others missing relatively easy shots around the basket, dropping what was an 18-point lead down to a 63-54 halftime margin.

In the second half, the Nuggets and Lakers went back and forth. After some Lakers runs with LeBron at the center of them, the Nuggets always responded with a run of their own. Davis, for as well as he played in the first half, scored zero points in the second half and rarely attacked Jokić. It was a surprising turn of events, but the Nuggets certainly benefitted. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope flourished in the second half, and the Nuggets starters turned on the jets to put the game away.

“I think we controlled the game the whole time,” shared Jokić postgame. “At the end, we kind of lost it a bit…but from that moment, we stepped up and we made plays to win the game.”

The fans had something to say at the end too with the “Who’s Your Daddy” chants as the Nuggets ran out the clock.

Here are some takeaways from an epic opening night:

Jokić and the starters didn’t miss a beat

Even though the Lakers made occasional rallies against staggered Nuggets bench units, the starters were always there to clean it up. Late in the fourth quarter with the Nuggets up 103-96 with 5:15 left to go, Denver scored on four straight possessions with the starters out there: a Murray three-pointer, a KCP pull-up two, a Gordon dunk, and an MPJ corner three in a two-minute span. That run caused a Lakers timeout and effectively ended the game.

“Our starting group looked like they didn’t miss a beat,” emphasized Michael Malone after the game. “Michael Porter, I’m so proud of him. He didn’t shoot the ball well, but he had 12 rebounds. We don’t sign specialists around here.”

It’s the ability of the starters to attack teams from all angles that truly affect the game in a positive way for the Nuggets. Jokić captains things at the top of the key, and the Nuggets run so many actions that take so much attention that there’s often a wide open cutter, spacer, or lane for Jokić to exploit. And Jokić simply doesn’t miss those opportunities. He reads the floor perfectly almost every time and makes the right play. His confidence knows no bounds on those plays either, and he’s able to take chances others can’t.

The Lakers simply don’t have an answer for Jokić. He makes life difficult for them and for Anthony Davis specifically. The Lakers had their most success against Jokić when Davis wasn’t even on the floor, and that obviously isn’t a tenable solution either.

The bench rotations were curious

Reggie Jackson was the first reserve off the bench and served as Denver’s sixth man tonight. Jackson played 24 minutes, had eight points, three rebounds, and one assist, and he was a +11 on the evening. The Nuggets naturally went that direction when they knew Jamal Murray would stagger with the second unit, and that sounds like the thing they’re going to do moving forward.

Christian Braun, Peyton Watson, and Zeke Nnaji also played. Braun and Watson had some nice blocks from the weak side, while Nnaji guarded reasonably well on the perimeter. That bench lineup featuring Murray and Jackson didn’t have great process offensively, but they were solid on defense all night. The only issue was offensive rebounding, something that the bench will likely struggle with all year.

No Julian Strawther tonight, but Michael Malone said he believes in Strawther as part of the future and wants to get him out there at some point moving forward.

What’s Next

The Nuggets have two days off and will practice on Thursday before traveling to play the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Final Rotations