The stage was set, the anticipation palpable, and the excitement electric as the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers squared off to open the 2023-2024 NBA season. But this matchup was not just any ordinary season opener; it was a reunion of sorts, bringing back memories of a thrilling postseason clash that had basketball fans on the edge of their seats. The league knew precisely what it was doing when it selected these two teams to headline the season’s start.
Before the tip-off at Ball Arena, the Denver Nuggets were presented with their hard-earned championship rings, a moment that ignited the crowd’s most raucous cheers of the night. The emcee, Vic Lombardi, added to the excitement by mentioning the Nuggets’ stunning achievement – sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers during the Western Conference Finals on their way to the franchise’s first NBA championship.
The Nuggets-Lakers rivalry is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing storylines of the season. Last year’s postseason set the stage, with the 17-time champion Lakers facing off against a relatively overlooked and title-less Nuggets team led by the unassuming superstar, Nikola Jokic. The Western Conference Finals were filled with drama, on and off the court, providing fans with captivating moments and unforgettable narratives.
During last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets showcased their dominance, while LeBron James hinted at retirement. Nuggets coach Michael Malone added some light-hearted mockery, and Lombardi, not one to hold back, piled on the humor. It was a combination of intense basketball and playful banter that made the rivalry even more exciting.
The season opener on Tuesday was a continuation of the captivating rivalry. The Nuggets once again emerged as the stronger team, despite the Lakers’ impressive offseason acquisitions. The Lakers faced an 18-point deficit but managed to cut it to as few as three points in the fourth quarter. However, the Nuggets regained control and secured a 119-107 victory.
Nikola Jokic shone, displaying his midseason form with a game-high 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists. The Serbian sensation continues to prove himself as one of the league’s most versatile and dominant players.
Notably, TNT analyst Charles Barkley made his presence felt. Before the game, he raised the issue of domestic violence in the sport with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. In interviews with reporters, Barkley expressed his views on various topics, from his championship pick (the Boston Celtics) to praising Jokic’s focus and questioning the hype around Victor Wembanyama. Barkley also had strong words about the NBA’s new Player Participation Policy, expressing his concerns.
The season opener was undeniably the Nuggets’ night, much like the previous season’s finale. The camaraderie and humor among the Nuggets players were evident, with Jamal Murray joking about wearing his championship ring during the first quarter of the game. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who won a championship with the Lakers in 2020, poured in 20 points against his former team.
As for the Lakers, LeBron James, at 38, led his team with 21 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. Anthony Davis contributed 17 points and eight rebounds, despite going scoreless in the second half.
The desire to defeat the Lakers was palpable for the Nuggets, setting the stage for a compelling storyline that is likely to continue throughout the season. The prospect of these two teams meeting in the postseason once again is undeniably thrilling.
In his address to the crowd, Coach Michael Malone summed it up perfectly: “Last year was amazing. We’ve got one ring. Who wants another?” The Nuggets are hungry for more, and basketball fans can’t wait to see how this exciting rivalry unfolds over the course of the season.