NBA playoffs: Nuggets work over Lakers to pick up where they left off from last year

The Los Angeles Lakers had an ideal start against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. LeBron James looked like the best player on the floor. Aaron Gordon, one of Denver's key defenders, got into early foul trouble. D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Davis were both making shots. They were up double-digits in the second quarter.

And then, like with every game of last year's Western Conference finals, it didn't matter.

After some early struggles, the Nuggets worked over the Lakers on their way to a 114-103 Game 1 win. They looked every bit like the unit that won Denver's first championship in franchise history last season, which is bad for a lot more teams than just the Lakers.

It's worst for the Lakers, though, who have now lost nine straight games to Denver between the regular season and playoffs. They last defeated the Nuggets on Dec. 16, 2022.

Nikola Jokić was again efficiently dominant, with 32 points on 15-of-23 shooting with 12 rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers. With him on the floor, the Nuggets were pulling off stuff like this:

The Nuggets committed four turnovers total.

It should be said the Lakers at least appeared to have a plan. They played the Nuggets' backcourt more aggressively than most teams dare to, trying especially hard to make Jamal Murray uncomfortable. They also made sure Denver didn't catch them off-guard in transition. It all translated into missed shots for the Nuggets, for a while.

The tide turned late in the second quarter, when the Lakers held their largest lead of the game at 12 points. The Nuggets responded with a 14-2 run to tie the game, then really went to work in the third quarter.

By then, the Lakers were looking exhausted and started to make some bad decisions. Several possessions ended the way Denver would have wanted, such as a Davis 3-point attempt, and it took a while for the Lakers to get their feet back under them. They managed to narrow the lead to single-digits midway through the fourth quarter, but couldn't get any closer.

Like with the last series, Russell ended up looking unplayable against a team fully equipped to exploit him on offense and deny him open shots on defense. He finished the night with 13 points on 6-of-20 shooting (1-of-9 from deep). It's not hard to imagine the Lakers adjusting for Game 2 with fewer minutes for him and more for the more defensively inclined Gabe Vincent.

It can't be denied the Lakers went for it in this game. James played nearly 41 minutes and Davis topped 44. Their reward was a rested Nuggets team that showed little rust after a six-game layoff, and it won't get any easier from here.