The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Two NBA title contenders solidify top dog status during 2023 Tip-Off

Lakers-Nuggets, Warriors-Suns highlight first night
Nikola+Jokic+at+the+2022+NBA+All-Star+game.
Courtesy of Erik Drost via Wikimedia Commons
Nikola Jokic at the 2022 NBA All-Star game.

The 2023–24 NBA season is officially underway. Teams are looking different, expectations are high for every team and the long grind to the NBA Finals has begun. Opening night saw two marquee matchups of teams projected to be atop the Western Conference standings.

The defending champion Denver Nuggets took on the Los Angeles Lakers led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, then the new-look Phoenix Suns took on the Golden State Warriors with former Suns point guard Chris Paul.

Nuggets vs. Lakers 

Opening night began with Denver receiving their rings and raising their championship banner, a celebration of their hard work and dedication from last season. 

Reigning Finals MVP Nikola Jokić had another fantastic performance, getting his first triple-double of the season and 106th of his career, as he is in mid-season form for the most part. He finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 36 minutes of action. Jokić finished with a career-high 29 triple-doubles but missed out on his third-straight MVP Award after finishing second. 

Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope also joined in on the scoring party, finishing with 21 and 20 points, respectively. Michael Porter Jr. finished his night with a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, just the 29th double-double of his career. 

The 119-107 loss was the seventh-straight opening loss for the Lakers, one of the worst stretches across the entire league. Their last opening win came back in 2016 before the current core had joined the team and when LeBron James was still in Cleveland with the Cavaliers. 

It was the first time fans saw James back in a No. 23 uniform since 2021, as, after originally wearing the number when he joined the Lakers, he switched to No. 6 for the past two years. Going into 2023, he switched back to No. 23 to honor the late Bill Russell, according to ESPN reporter Dave McMenamin

James finished opening night with a team-leading 21 points, adding eight rebounds and five assists. Entering the season as the league’s oldest player, still putting up All-Star caliber numbers no matter how early in the season is a testament to his status as one of the all-time greats of the league. 

Winning game one on their quest to defend their NBA Championship, as they continue to look like the team to beat in the Western Conference. 

Suns vs. Warriors 

Phoenix went into the offseason looking to improve their roster to take down Denver, which is precisely what they did. Despite having to move on from Paul, they added Bradley Beal, forming a three-headed monster with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. 

Despite Beal missing the first game of the season, several new additions made their Suns debut: Jusef Nurkić and Drew Eubanks, formerly of the Portland Trail Blazers, Grayson Allen from the Milwaukee Bucks, Eric Gordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Yura Watanabe of the Brooklyn Nets all played meaningful minutes in game one. 

Booker led the Suns in scoring with 32 points, along with his six rebounds and eight assists, while Durant had an OK, not great, game with 18 points and 10 rebounds. 

After leaving Portland, Jurkić made his presence felt on his new team with his 149th career double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, including the game-clinching bucket off a pick-and-roll with Booker with under 11 seconds to go.

Paul played in 34 minutes against his former team, putting up 14 points, six rebounds and nine assists in what could very well be the final first game of his hall-of-fame caliber career. 

Another hall-of-fame caliber point guard from the Warriors, Steph Curry, put up 27 points and five rebounds in the loss. It is the first year in a long time that he is not the primary distributor of the ball on offense, which is evidenced by a singular assist on the night. 

Former Coug Klay Thompson finished with 15 points and seven rebounds on the night, surely looking to get things going and get hot to start the season for the Warriors. 

Despite missing their key offseason addition, the Suns already appear to be in the top echelon of teams that will be hard to take down, but that will be put to the test as they will eventually take on the other opening-night winner in the Nuggets Dec. 1.

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About the Contributor
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2023 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.