Kurt Helin

Stephen Curry

Five Things To Know from NBA opening night: Stephen Curry still good at basketball

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The NBA season tipped off on Tuesday night, and while we were glued to the games you may have been glued to a different channel where they played “guess Bartolo Colon’s weight.” So as you will find five days a week at PBT throughout the season, here are five things to know from the night before in the NBA:

Stephen Curry did not forget how to shoot the basketball over the summer. What too many people tried to spin as the Warriors being “lucky” last season (no team every won an NBA title without being lucky with health/having opponents who weren’t) was them taking advantage of the situation presented them. That happened again in the season opener. The Pelicans didn’t have point guards Jrue Holiday, Norris Cole, or Tyreke Evans due to injury, and that left undersized Nate Robinson — not exactly known as a defensive stopper — and just acquired Ish Smith trying to guard the reigning MVP. That didn’t go very well. Curry dropped 24 points in the first quarter.

Curry was just being Curry, even when the Pelicans defended him it didn’t matter — he was 7-of-9 on contested shots (via NBA.com numbers). He was 7-of-10 at the rim. Curry had seven assists and five hockey assists. It felt like everything the Pelicans and new coach Alvin Gentry tried, Golden State blew up. For example, the Pelicans switched a lot on defense and the Warriors took advantage when Anthony Davis and other bigs were pulled outside — Golden State grabbed the offensive rebound on 45.7 percent of their missed shots. It was just that kind of night.

Curry and the defending champs started the new season off looking a lot like the team that finished last one.

• Bulls fan Barack Obama was in Chicago and liked what he saw. Word started to spread in the morning that the world’s most powerful basketball fan would be in the building for opening night at the United Center, and sure enough, added security precautions made sure it took 20 minutes for reporters to get inside. President Obama and his secret service detail arrived in their courtside seats midway through the first quarter. Obama, who reps all things Chicago sports and has for years, had to have been pleased with what he saw—the ball movement was crisp and the offense was more free-flowing than it ever was last season. During a timeout in the fourth quarter, he got a dap from J.R. Smith, which is surely a defining moment in his presidency. Not that the other players paid him much attention.

“It was really cool for him to come out and support us, him being from here and all,” Jimmy Butler said after the game. “I’m glad we went out and got a win for him. But we were pretty focused on the game.” —Sean Highkin (reporting from Chicago)

• Cleveland’s offense looked awfully familiar. And flat. When last we saw the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals their offense seemed to consist of LeBron James isolations against the world (and we saw how well that worked). That hasn’t changed. The new season started and thanks to injuries — no Kyrie Irving, no Iman Shumpert — and a preseason where LeBron and Kevin Love never played a minute together, the Cavaliers’ offense again was the LeBron show. Way too much LeBron isolating on the left wing, and the Bulls were able to defend it well enough (the Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 93.6 points per 100 possessions in this game). The problem is Love is still working his way back, he and LeBron are still finding chemistry, and then after those two there is just a big drop-off in offensive talent right now (again, due to injuries).  Like last season, the LeBron show gave the Cavs a chance to win at the end, but they fell just short.

What should we take away from this about the Cavaliers? Nothing. Other than that they may struggle a little the first few weeks of the season. This is a very different team from the one we will see in a couple of months, let alone the end of the season and playoffs. (Same is true of the Bulls.)

• That is why the Bulls are starting Nikola Mitotic. All last season, the numbers said the Bulls were better when Mirotic was running with the starting group as a stretch four. It just opened up their offense. But defensive-minded Tom Thibodeau couldn’t bring himself to do it.

On Tuesday night in the season opener, the Cavaliers first two buckets came because Mirotic got beat and missed his rotation. But then he showed why he needs to start and play significant minutes — he hit a couple of threes that both evened up the game, he opened up the floor for Derrick Rose to drive (even if Rose was just 3-of-10 at the rim trying to finish those drives). Mirotic ended up with a team-high 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-4 from three) and was a +9 on the night. He got abused a few times on defense, but his pick-and-roll (and pop) coverage, particularly on Love, was not bad. New coach Fred Hoiberg needs to figure out the rotations — Mirotic and Pau Gasol were -2 on the night when paired and you can see where they will struggle on the boards — but the bottom line is he has to play. It’s the one thing Hoiberg can do right that Thibodeau refused to do.

• Detroit looks like it can shoot the rock — and if so watch out. It was one of those things that jumped out during the preseason — the Pistons looked like they could shoot the rock. They shot 36.8 percent from three and hit their long twos as well, and that should open things up for Andre Drummond inside. In the season opener the Pistons showed that was no fluke — they took 29 threes and hit 12 (41.4 percent). Behind 21 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (4-of-7 from three), the Pistons blitzed the Hawks 106-94 — and this was in a game where Drummond struggled with his post moves (he was 0-of-7 on half-court post ups, but still had 19 points). The Pistons’ defense looked good. Marcus Morris added 18 points. The Pistons starters played 24 minutes and were +27, plus rookie Stanley Johnson looked good off the bench.

Things clicked for Detroit, and while it’s just one game Detroit looked like a team to watch. And I’m not just saying that because I predicted the Pistons would make the playoffs.

Stephen Curry drops 24 in first quarter, 40 total in Warriors’ win

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Stephen Curry is still very good at basketball.

Matched up against a banged up and undersized New Orleans backcourt (Nate Robinson started at the point with Ish Smith behind him), Curry went off for 24 first quarter points. He finished the night with 40 points on just 26 shots as the Warriors cruised to an 111-95 win. Even when the Pelicans defended Curry well it didn’t matter, he hit 7-of-9 contested shots in the game.

While Curry hit a couple of threes from about the Bay Bridge, what gets overlooked some is that he’s a fantastic finisher around the rim as well. He was 7-of-10 in the restricted area in the game, according to Synergy Sports. Curry was just an unstoppable force. This wasn’t luck.

Pistons surprise Hawks on opening night

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Al Horford
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ATLANTA (AP) — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 21 points to lead all five Detroit starters in double figures, carrying the Pistons to a surprising 106-94 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night and ruining the home opener of the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season.

The Pistons, who haven’t had a winning season since 2008 and finished 28 games behind the Hawks a year ago, began to pull away just before halftime. They led by double figures through most of the final two quarters and held on despite missing 20 of their last 22 shots from the field.

Andre Drummond had 19 rebounds and 18 points for the Pistons. Marcus Morris also had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Ersan Ilyasova chipped in with 16 points and Reggie Jackson added 15.

Atlanta was looking to build on last season’s franchise-best record of 60-22 and run to the conference final. Instead, the Hawks picked up where they left off in a sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers, losing again in familiar fashion.

The Pistons had a commanding 59-40 edge on the boards, again exposing the biggest issue to plague the Hawks last season.

Atlanta acquired 6-foot-11 Tiago Splitter from San Antonio but it made no immediate difference for one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams.

Detroit won despite shooting just 38.5 percent (37 of 96).

Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 20 points. Paul Millsap had 19 and Jeff Teague 18, but new starter Kent Bazemore – who stepped in at small forward after DeMarre Carroll left in free agency – was held scoreless.

The Pistons gave a glimpse of what was to come right from opening tipoff. Caldwell-Pope knocked down a 3-pointer midway through the first quarter to push Detroit to a 20-10 lead.

Atlanta tied it up by the end of the period and finally pushed out to a lead early in the second. But the Hawks were never up by more than five points.

Detroit seized control with a 17-4 spurt that finished up the second quarter and carried on into the third. Caldwell-Pope started the stretch with a 3-pointer and finished it with a three-point play, putting the Pistons ahead 56-43.

The Pistons led by as many as 19.

TIP-INS

Pistons: F Anthony Tolliver missed the game after getting word that his pregnant wife was in labor. He took a flight home early Tuesday to be with his spouse and their new daughter.

Hawks: G Tim Hardaway Jr., who was acquired from New York for a first-round draft pick, was surprisingly on the inactive list for his first game with Atlanta. He was denied a chance to go against his father, an assistant coach for the Pistons. … Rookie G-F Lamar Patterson, a second-round pick in 2014 who played last season in Turkey, had 5 points in 18 minutes. … Atlanta picked up the fourth-year contract options on both Hardaway and Schroder. … F Mike Muscala went out with a sprained right ankle and did not return.

“Frustrated” Steve Kerr says he’s “improving,” no timetable for return

Steve Kerr
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Steve Kerr says he is going to coach this season. He just has no idea when.

Kerr met with the media before the Warriors — his Warriors, the team he coached to a title but currently being led by Luke Walton — took the court to raise their NBA championship banner and get their rings. Kerr got his ring but sat out the game, and will sit out more as he recovers from multiple back surgeries this past summer.

Kerr talked about his return, as reported by Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.

“I am feeling better, so that’s the good news,” Kerr said. “The bad news is I’m not feeling well enough to coach yet. It’s hard because I don’t know when that will be. So there’s no timetable. It’s not a sprained ankle, two-to-four-weeks type of thing. When I feel better, I’ll feel better.

“It’s very frustrating, but I am improving….

“Fortunately, prospects for the long term are great,” Kerr said. “I know I’m on the right path, on the right track. I’m very confident that I will be back this season, and I can’t wait. It’s killing me. And it’s killing me not to be out there tonight. I’m excited to be part of the ceremony, but I’m really disappointed not to be coaching.”

Kerr said he may travel with the team on their weekend road trip (Houston and New Orleans) but wouldn’t coach. Lucky Walton, he gets to have the boss just follow him around, watch him like a hawk, but not help with anything. That sounds like the ideal business trip.

With the core of the team back playing the same system that won 67 games and the NBA title the season before, Kerr missing some time is not going to impact this team much. They will need him to push the right buttons later in the season and into the playoffs, but Walton can guide them through the first patch without much trouble.

 

Watch Pau Gasol’s game-saving block on LeBron to earn Bulls win

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The irony is Pau Gasol had been pretty terrible defensively all night. His recognition and rotations were poor, and if Joakim Noah had been healthy (he banged knees in the third quarter and did not return), Gasol likely would have been on the bench.

But with the game on the line, Gasol came up with his sixth block of the night, using his length on LeBron James, and it preserved a 97-95 Bulls win in the season opener.

This was a sloppy game for both teams, the Cavaliers’ offense sputtered without Kyrie Irving and with LeBron still someone slowed by his back (25 points on 12-22 shooting). They also really missed Iman Shumpert‘s defense.

But credit the Bulls, they made the plays to get the win. Nikola Mirotic had 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting (3-of-4 from three) to lead the Bulls, while an attacking Derrick Rose had 18 points on 22 shots.

It almost wasn’t enough, the Cavaliers almost stole the game, set up by some late Kevin Love threes. But that’s where Gasol came in.