NBA: Jokic leads Nuggets past Lakers, and Knicks, T'Wolves, Cavs win NBA playoff openers

AFP , Sunday 21 Apr 2024

The defending champion Denver Nuggets, powered by 32 points from Nikola Jokic, shook off a slow start to beat LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers 114-103 in game one of their NBA playoffs first-round series on Saturday.

Denver star Nikola Jokic puts up a shot over Anthony Davis in the Nuggets victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. AFP


The Nuggets, who swept the Lakers in four games in the Western Conference finals on the way to their first title last season, continued their dominance of star-studded Los Angeles, who had dropped all three regular-season meetings.

The game was the finale of the first day of the playoffs, which saw the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Phoenix Suns 120-95, the New York Knicks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 111-104 and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic 97-83.

In Denver, Jokic added 12 rebounds and seven assists, Jamal Murray added 22 points with 10 assists and Michael Porter Jr. scored 19 for the Nuggets, who used a 13-0 scoring run to take charge in the third quarter -- in which they limited the Lakers to 18 points.

James scored 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Anthony Davis added 27 for the Lakers, who cut a 15-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to six only for the Nuggets to pull away again.

Jokic's only three-pointer of the game pushed the Nuggets' lead to 103-93. He added a dunk over James, who took a hard fall with a minute remaining but stayed in the game to the bitter end.


"Mindset needed to change," Jokic said of the Nuggets' third-quarter resurgence. "I think for the second half defense was amazing."

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the Nuggets' 15-6 superiority in offensive rebounding was key as Denver piled up 18 second-chance points.

"You can't allow them to get multiple possessions," said Ham, who added that he still believed the best-of-seven series, which resumes Monday, will be a "hard fought" affair.

In Minneapolis, Anthony Edwards scored 23 of his 33 points in the second half as the Minnesota Timberwolves thrashed Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns in their Western Conference clash.

Against a team that also had their number in the regular season, Minnesota's Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert -- bolstered by a strong supporting cast -- turned the tables.

Towns scored 19 points, Gobert added 14 points and 16 rebounds and the Timberwolves reserves -- led by 18 points from Nickeil Alexander-Walker -- out-scored the Suns bench 41-18.

Up by 10 at halftime, the Timberwolves took full control in the third quarter, with Edwards scoring 18 points and taking the opportunity to needle Durant.

"I think everybody here knows that's my favorite player of all time," Edwards said of two-time NBA champ Durant. "That was probably one of the best feelings ever in my whole life, for sure."

Durant finished with 31 points and seven rebounds. Devin Booker added 18 and Bradley Beal 15, but the Suns couldn't find a way through the Timberwolves' stifling defense keyed by Gobert.

Just one game

"It's just one game," Edwards said. "They're going to be ready the next time we play them."

In New York, Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart scored 22 points apiece for the Knicks and Miles McBride came up big off the bench with 21 -- 13 of them in the second quarter.

The 76ers got a jolt shortly before halftime when NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid came down from a highlight reel dunk and appeared to hurt his surgically repaired left knee.

He returned for the third quarter coming up with a steal and feeding Kelly Oubre Jr. for a dunk that gave the Sixers a three-point lead late in the period.

The Sixers, led by 33 points from Tyrese Maxey, couldn't stay in front, and with less than two minutes remaining Hart drilled a pair of three-pointers and OG Anunoby made another to help the Knicks seal it.

The Knicks host game two on Monday, with the Sixers breathing a sigh of relief that Embiid, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists, apparently will be ready as they try to even the series.

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