Five lessons from Game 1’s dominant comeback

A different pregame look didn’t change Nikola Jokic’s production or his team’s dominance over the Lakers.

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DENVER — When does another team officially have your number? Well, as for the Lakers and Nuggets, there are now nine – as in nine straight wins for Denver.

Whether at high altitude in the Rocky Mountains or at sea level in LA, the end result is the same as of December 2022. And what makes the latter so depressing for the Lakers (and reassuring for the defending champs) is that the Lakers are still a haven. I haven’t found the formula.

Well, after a 114-103 win in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round series, the Nuggets are once again in position to sweep like they did in the West finals last summer.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone mentioned a “comfort level” the Nuggets have with the Lakers. Okay then.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday:

1. Joker looks ‘despicable’ for Lakers

The NBA fashion runway, known as the tunnel leading to the locker room, was a point of interest before Game 1 when Nikola Jokic of all people stole the show.

With the cameras popping, he arrived wearing a suspiciously dark jacket with a full-length silver zipper and a large striped scarf, stealing tailoring from a famous fictional character in one fell swoop.

This was some masterful product placement: Joker participates in a promotional trailer for “Despicable Me 4.” He tells a therapist he’s being bullied and whines, “They say I look like Gru.”

Gru is the lovable ex-villain in the animated comedy who loves scarves. Well, Jokic loves being a problem for the Lakers.

Last summer he tripled his run to reach the Western Conference finals, then had almost as strong a performance on Saturday. The Lakers mainly used Rui Hachimura and Anthony Davis. Jokic was simply too smart and fluid for either defender.

It was 32 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a pair of steals for Jokic, who dominated for long stretches and never really seemed fazed by whoever or whatever the Lakers blamed him for.

2. LOAD — Leaning on AD (and LeBron)

Once again, the Lakers asked a lot in terms of playing time and performance from their top two sources.

The good news: For the most part, Davis and LeBron delivered. The not-so-good news: The Lakers will have a hard time beating the Nuggets without help, which has been lacking.

This was partly surprising and partly predictable. LeBron and AD were healthy all year. Davis played 76 games at his highest level (the first time since 2018-19) and burned a lot of minutes without any problems. Both were All-Stars.

But this deep into the season, the Lakers would prefer to be less dependent on a player in his 21st year and a big man with a rich injury history. Davis played 45 minutes and LeBron 41. They combined to score 59 points, but they spent incredible energy doing so in a series opener.

LeBron dropped a 35-footer at the halftime buzzer to put LA ahead by three, and that was the last major Laker highlight. The Nuggets dominated the third quarter and never trailed again.

Meanwhile, Hachimura and Austin Reaves, both of whom played well in the playoffs last year, were not a factor off the bench aside from Taurean Prince.

And then there was…

3. Another playoff low point from Russell

He threw a bad pass that was picked off by the wrong team and led to a breakaway layup, and that’s when D’Angelo Russell heard it – and not just from the opposing fans’ jeers.

LeBron clapped hard in his direction and said, “Come on.” On this night, a troubling one for the point guard, LeBron had apparently reached the end of his patience – and it was only the third quarter.

Things didn’t get better for Russell, whose struggles Saturday were costly — 6-for-20 shooting and 1-for-9 from deep, and a handful of those looks were wide open.

Last summer, in the West Finals against these Nuggets, he shot 10-for-31 and came off the bench in the elimination game. New season, same result.

This was a turnaround from what Russell showed in recent months. After a slow start to the season, his play picked up, averaging 22.7 points in January and 20.2 in February while giving the Lakers a necessary third source of offense.

“I know what I’m capable of,” he said, “so honestly, I’m excited about that.”

4. Playoffs give Porter a reality escape

For Michael Porter Jr. it was a week to quickly forget. On Wednesday, his brother Jontay was banned by the NBA for betting on games. On Friday, another brother, Coban, was sentenced to six years in prison for killing a woman in a drunk driving accident last year.

Porter skipped practice to attend the sentencing and told the judge how much Coban inspired him during his childhood.

“I know it’s not often that a big brother looks up to a younger brother,” he said, “but that’s how it was for me.”

Porter used Game 1 to free himself, at least temporarily, from real life. He scored 19 points and looked stronger as the match progressed.

“I mean, he’s been through a lot,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “The boy is a warrior… he knows he has the full support of this organization behind him. So we’ll keep an eye on him, but I fully expect Michael to go out in his safe space, get on the field and get away from all that.

To be clear – and to give perspective, anything Porter or his family is going through does not compare to that of the family of Kathy Rothman, who died in the crash.

And Porter told her family in court, “I know if I were in your shoes and it was the other way around, I would have a lot of feelings too.”

5. New Nuggets bench passes first test

The two-man game of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray remains unstoppable, as do the rest of the Nuggets’ starters.

No Jeff Green? No Bruce Brown? No problem – so far – for the Nuggets. Their reserves, which are not as formidable as those of last season’s championship team, did quite well. Essentially, the reserves didn’t cost the Nuggets a game.

And that’s really the best Denver can hope for. No offense to Peyton Watson, Christian Braun and Reggie Jackson, but they are not as proven or effective as Green and especially Brown were on their way to the title.

At some point their interests will play a role in the outcome. It’s just that the Nuggets’ starters committed just one turnover and showed such optimal chemistry that Denver didn’t really need much else.

Watson, the rookie, scored eight points, Braun had five rebounds and DeAndre Jordan shook off the cobwebs for nine minutes. We’ll get a better idea of ​​this group next game. Maybe.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can email him here, find his archive here And follow him on X.

The views expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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