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Nikola Jokic leads NBA champ Denver Nuggets past LeBron James and Lakers 114-103 in playoff opener

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Nikola Jokic leads NBA champ Denver Nuggets past LeBron James and Lakers 114-103 in playoff opener
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Nikola Jokic leads NBA champ Denver Nuggets past LeBron James and Lakers 114-103 in playoff opener

2024-04-21 19:53 Last Updated At:20:01

DENVER (AP) — Unlike their crowd that drowned out the Los Angeles Lakers' pregame introductions, the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets were a little late to the playoff party Saturday night.

They turned up their offense and defense after a sputtering start, however, powering past the Lakers 114-103 behind Nikola Jokic's 32 points and 12 rebounds in the Western Conference playoff opener, their ninth consecutive triumph over the Lakers.

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Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray celebrates after a 3-point basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

DENVER (AP) — Unlike their crowd that drowned out the Los Angeles Lakers' pregame introductions, the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets were a little late to the playoff party Saturday night.

Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) dunks against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, back, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) dunks against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, back, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James yells against the Denver Nuggets during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James yells against the Denver Nuggets during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) gets a hand on the ball against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) gets a hand on the ball against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., center right, is pressured by Los Angeles Lakers forward Taurean Prince, center left, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., center right, is pressured by Los Angeles Lakers forward Taurean Prince, center left, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) grabs a rebound against Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun (0) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) grabs a rebound against Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun (0) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Peyton Watson. right, reach for a rebound against Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Peyton Watson. right, reach for a rebound against Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up to shoot against Denver Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson (7) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up to shoot against Denver Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson (7) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

After watching LeBron James score 19 first-half points, capped by a pull-up 3 from 32 feet in the final second that put the Lakers up 60-57, the Nuggets limited the NBA’s career scoring leader to nine points in the second half and didn’t allow him to even take a shot in the fourth quarter until just 1:20 remained.

“We’re not going anywhere," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "This is the playoffs. No team in the playoffs, if you get down 12 early, you’re not going to just take your ball and go home. We still have plenty of fight left in us and we know that we were better than what we were playing early.

“That’s a good team over there. They came into the playoffs playing extremely well, and they showed it. LeBron was on course, I thought he’s about to have 50 points tonight, the way he was playing and shooting the ball.”

James finished with 27 points and Anthony Davis had 32.

That wasn't nearly enough to match the reigning champs' prowess.

Two other Nuggets matched Jokic's double-double — Jamal Murray (22 points, 10 assists) and Aaron Gordon (12 points, 11 rebounds) — and Michael Porter Jr. came close with 19 points and eight boards.

Denver handed James just his fourth loss in 17 first-round openers, but Malone said, “We've got to watch the film to see what we can do better. This is going to be a hell of a series.”

The Lakers haven’t beaten the Nuggets since Dec. 16, 2022. They’ll try again Monday night in Game 2 at Ball Arena, where Denver is now 34-8 this season.

“To be honest, we are desperate, too. We don't want to lose at home," Jokic said. “I think every game is going to be interesting. So, hopefully we are going to match and be even more physical than them.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham concurred with Malone's sentiment about a competitive series, saying, "Everybody's going to lose their mind over one game, and give them their credit, they held serve at home. They're a tough home team, tough to beat in general, but they're really good at home. ... (But) we did a lot of good things out there tonight.”

Denver just did more things better.

The Nuggets had 15 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points, 10 more than the Lakers, who grabbed just six offensive boards. And the Nuggets committed just four turnovers — just one by their starters — while the Lakers turned the ball over a dozen times, including a whopping seven by James.

“I thought we played some good ball tonight, just could have been better,” James said. “You don't have much room for error versus Denver's team, especially at their home floor. They're just a team that's been through everything. Obviously, they're the defending champions, so you gotta execute, you gotta make shots, you gotta defend. And then you can't give them extra possessions.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored all 12 of his points after halftime, made a trio of 3-pointers in a 13-0 run the Nuggets used to seize control in the third quarter at 89-74.

Porter excelled on the court, as coach Malone predicted he would, after a trying week for his family that saw one younger brother, Coban Porter, sentenced to six years in jail for a fatal drunken driving crash on Friday and another, former Toronto Raptors guard Jontay Porter, banned from the NBA for betting on basketball and disclosing confidential information to other bettors.

“I think I definitely tried to compartmentalize," Porter said. "Some bad and sad stuff happened to a couple of my brothers, but I got 15, 16 more brothers in here. So I knew I had to be here for them and come in here and do my job.”

The Nuggets entered these playoffs with bull's-eyes on their backs but supremely confident of their chances to repeat after tying a franchise record with 57 regular season wins, four more than last year.

One sign of their looseness: Jokic, who's starring in a teaser for “Despicable Me 4” where he seeks therapy because the Minions think he's their boss, arrived at Ball Arena decked out in a black-and-gray striped scarf and gray pants, looking like Felonius Gru -- the lead character from the movie franchise.

James should have shown up dressed like Vector because he played the perfect villain, at least until halftime.

Denver swept the Lakers in last season’s Western Conference finals, the next-to-last step the Nuggets had to clear before claiming their first NBA title.

“I don't ever get into the ‘here we go again’ mindset,” James said. “One game, they protected their home court. We have another opportunity on Monday to come back and be better.”

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This story corrects first name of Denver player to Aaron Gordon instead of Anthony Gordon.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray celebrates after a 3-point basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray celebrates after a 3-point basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (5) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) dunks against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, back, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) dunks against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, back, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James yells against the Denver Nuggets during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James yells against the Denver Nuggets during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) gets a hand on the ball against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) gets a hand on the ball against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., center right, is pressured by Los Angeles Lakers forward Taurean Prince, center left, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., center right, is pressured by Los Angeles Lakers forward Taurean Prince, center left, during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) drives to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) goes up to shoot against Los Angeles Lakers guard Austin Reaves (15) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) grabs a rebound against Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun (0) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) grabs a rebound against Denver Nuggets guard Christian Braun (0) during the second half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Peyton Watson. right, reach for a rebound against Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and Peyton Watson. right, reach for a rebound against Los Angeles Lakers forward Rui Hachimura (28) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up to shoot against Denver Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson (7) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) goes up to shoot against Denver Nuggets guard Reggie Jackson (7) during the first half in Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

PARIS (AP) — The Syrian soldiers came first, at night, for the son, Patrick, a 20-year-old psychology student at Damascus University, and said they were taking him away for questioning.

They came back the next night for his father, Mazen.

Five years later, in 2018, death certificates from Syrian authorities confirmed to the Dabbagh family that the French-Syrian father and son would never come home again.

In a landmark trial, a Paris court will this week seek to determine whether Syrian intelligence officials — the most senior to go on trial in a European court over crimes allegedly committed during the country's civil war — were responsible for their disappearance and deaths.

The four-day hearings, starting Tuesday, are expected to air chilling allegations that President Bashar Assad's government has widely used torture and arbitrary detentions to hold on to power during the conflict, now in its 14th year.

The French trial comes as Assad has been regaining an aura of international respectability, starting to shed his long-time status as a pariah that stemmed from the violence unleashed on his opponents. Human rights groups that are parties to the French case hope it will refocus attention on the alleged atrocities.

Here's a look at those involved:

— Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau overseeing Syrian security and intelligence services. Allegedly worked directly with Assad. Now in his late 70s.

— Jamil Hassan, former Air Force intelligence director. Survivors testifying in the case allege having seen him at a detention center in the capital, Damascus, where the Dabbaghs are thought to have been held. In his early 70s.

— Salam Mahmoud, in his mid-60s, a former investigations official at a Damascus military airport believed to house the detention center. Mahmoud is alleged to have expropriated the Dabbaghs' house after they were taken away.

The three men are accused of provoking crimes against humanity, giving instructions to commit them and allowing subordinates to commit them through the alleged arrest, torture and killing of the father and son. They also are accused of confiscating their house and of putting Air Force intelligence services at the disposal of people who allegedly killed them.

The accused are being tried in absentia. French magistrates issued arrest warrants for them in October 2018, despite acknowledging that there was little likelihood of their extradition to France. Defense lawyers will not represent them and French magistrates determined they don't have diplomatic immunity.

“The three people accused are very senior officials of the Syrian system of repression and torture. This gives a particular tone to this trial. They are not small fish,” said Patrick Baudouin, a lawyer for rights groups involved in the case.

“The legal file is very detailed, full of evidence of systematic, very diverse and absolutely monstrous torture practices," Baudouin said.

Patrick and Mazen Dabbagh had dual French-Syrian nationality, which enabled French magistrates to pursue the case. The probe of their disappearance started in 2015 when Obeida Dabbagh, Mazen's brother, testified to investigators already examining war crimes in Syria.

Obeida Dabbagh lives in France with his wife, Hanane, and is also a party in the case. According to the trial indictment, seen by The Associated Press, he told French investigators that three or four soldiers came for Patrick around 11 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2013, during the height of Arab Spring-inspired anti-government protests that were met by a brutal crackdown. The soldiers identified themselves as members of a Syrian Air Force intelligence branch. Obeida also testified they searched the house, taking cellphones, computers and money.

They came back the next night for Mazen Dabbagh, who was 54 and worked as a counselor at a French high school in Damascus, and also took his new car, the brother said.

Their death certificates said Patrick died Jan. 21, 2014, and Mazen on Nov. 25, 2017, but didn't say how or where.

French investigating magistrates collected evidence from those who deserted the Syrian government and military, and prison survivors as they built the case.

Testifying anonymously, survivors' accounts speak in the indictment of rape and of being denied food and water; of beatings on the feet, knees and elsewhere with whips, cables and truncheons; of electric shocks and burnings with acid or boiling water; of being suspended from the ceiling for hours or days.

Investigators also studied images provided by a Syrian policeman, who anonymously turned over photographs of thousands of torture victims.

Cameras are generally banned from French criminal trials, but this one will be filmed for historical record.

In a separate investigation, French magistrates have also targeted President Assad himself but face questions about whether he benefits from presidential immunity.

Magistrates are investigating chemical weapons' attacks that killed more than 1,000 people and injured thousands of others in the suburbs of Damascus in 2013. They issued international arrest warrants for Assad, his brother Maher Assad, commander of the 4th Armored Division, and two Syrian army generals — Ghassan Abbas and Bassam al-Hassan — for alleged complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The French probe was opened in 2021 in response to a criminal complaint by attack survivors. The investigation is being conducted under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which argues that in some cases, crimes can be pursued outside the countries where they take place.

The Syrian government and its allies have denied responsibility for the attacks.

The French warrants, very rare for a serving world leader, were seen as a strong signal against Assad’s leadership at a time when some countries have welcomed him back into the diplomatic fold. Victims' lawyers hailed the warrants as “a crucial milestone in the battle against impunity.”

The Paris appeals court is weighing whether Assad has absolute immunity as head of state. French prosecutors asked it to rule on that question at a closed hearing May 15.

That procedure does not impact the warrants for Assad’s brother and the generals.

In March, Swiss prosecutors indicted Rifat Assad, the president’s uncle and a former Syrian vice president, for allegedly ordering murder and torture more than four decades ago to crush an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, in the city of Hama, where thousands were killed.

A court in Stockholm put a former Syrian army general who lives in Sweden on trial in April for his alleged role in war crimes in 2012.

Courts in Germany found two former Syrian soldiers guilty in 2021 and 2022 of crimes against humanity. One was sentenced to life imprisonment, the other to 4 1/2 years for complicity. They had claimed refugee status in Germany before former detainees recognized them there. They were tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Surk reported from Nice, France. Associated Press writer Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

FILE - In this photo released on Nov. 9, 2019 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks in Damascus, Syria. In a landmark trial, a Paris court will this week seek Tuesday May 21, 2024 to determine whether Syrian intelligence officials were responsible for Patrick and Mazzen Dabbagh's disappearance and deaths. The hearings are expected to air chilling allegations that President Bashar Assad's regime has widely used torture and arbitrary detentions to keep power in Syria's civil war. (SANA via AP, File)

FILE - In this photo released on Nov. 9, 2019 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks in Damascus, Syria. In a landmark trial, a Paris court will this week seek Tuesday May 21, 2024 to determine whether Syrian intelligence officials were responsible for Patrick and Mazzen Dabbagh's disappearance and deaths. The hearings are expected to air chilling allegations that President Bashar Assad's regime has widely used torture and arbitrary detentions to keep power in Syria's civil war. (SANA via AP, File)

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