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.

Report: NBA ‘snitch’ hotline receiving multiple tips

NBA snitch hotline
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When the NBA created a hotline for players to anonymously report violations inside the bubble, numerous questions emerged. How often would it get used? What consequences would told-on players face? Would other players resent how often Chris Paul called?

Some answers are emerging.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kings center Richaun Holmes and Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo are each quarantined after breaking protocols. It’s unclear how their violations were detected.

Yes, there is a culture against snitching. That this report is snitching about snitching is truly something.

But there’s too much at stake – health of hundreds of people and a lot of money – to take these protocols lightly. Everyone at the NBA’s Disney World campus is entrusting their safety (and, for players, whose salaries are tied to revenue, livelihood) to those around them. It’s important everyone involved acts responsibly.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes tests positive for coronavirus

Kings forward Harrison Barnes
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The Kings have been hit especially hard by coronavirus.

Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len all tested positive. Richaun Holmes is quarantined after violating the NBA’s bubble protocols at Disney World.

And now Harrison Barnes reveals he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Harrison Barnes:

Presumably, Barnes was among the 19 players the NBA announced tested positive for coronavirus in July in home markets.

“Primarily asymptomatic” is a strange assessment. Does Barnes mean he’s mildly symptomatic?

The Kings already faced an uphill climb for making the playoffs. At best, several of their players are falling behind in training. At worst, Sacramento will have its rotation depleted when games begin.

Hopefully, Barnes recovers and joins the team as he hopes. He has a personal stake in it. Even during the lengthy hiatus, Barnes stuck with his pledge not to shave or cut his hair until the Kings reach .500 (or, as he amended it, make the playoffs) or the season ends.

Report: Pacers star Victor Oladipo’s remaining salary in dispute

Pacers star Victor Oladipo
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Among the continuing 22 NBA teams, players not playing in the resumption at Disney World essentially fall into two categories:

Pacers star Victor Oladipo lands in the gray area.

Oladipo, who returned from a year-long absence shortly before the season got suspended in March, said he was sitting out due to elevated risk of injury during a quick buildup. But he also traveled with the team to Orlando and is even practicing so well, Indiana is reportedly becoming increasingly optimistic he’ll play.

Is Oladipo healthy enough to play?

At stake for Oladipo:

  • $2,763,158 if the Pacers get swept in the first round
  • $2,993,421 if they play exactly five playoff games
  • $3,223,684 if they play six or more playoff games

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said.

The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league’s position on the matter, sources said.

The Pacers support Oladipo’s decision and are willing to pay him the salary whether he plays or not, sources said.

Presumably, if Oladipo plays, he’ll get paid like anyone else playing in the resumption. This controversy lingers only if Oladipo doesn’t play.

It’s unsurprising the Pacers don’t want to pick this fight with their star player, especially as he approaches 2021 free agency. Trying to avoid alienating their own players but not necessarily eager to pay for services not rendered, teams collectively want the league to handle these issues.

If teams had ample discretion, the Wizards might have said Davis Bertans – who chose to sit out – had some lingering injury. NBA players are rarely perfectly healthy. There’s always some physical issue to point to. Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and they want to re-sign him. What an easy way to build goodwill – and maybe even get a discount on Bertans’ next contract.

Obviously, the league doesn’t want those type of shenanigans. That’s why on outside rulings on players’ health can be important.

Oladipo might not be the only borderline case:

Oladipo’s situation might take care of itself if he decides to play. But the league might inquire more deeply into other situations.

Report: Rockets star James Harden ‘feeling fine,’ might travel with Russell Westbrook

Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook
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When Russell Westbrook revealed he had coronavirus, speculation immediately turned to the Rockets’ other star who also didn’t travel with the team to Disney World.

James Harden is “feeling fine,” working out and might travel with Westbrook to Orlando, according to Shams Charania of Stadium:

Was Harden also diagnosed with coronavirus? Is he just waiting for his friend before entering the restrictive bubble? Is there another issue?

These questions beget even more questions.

If both players have coronavirus, they won’t necessarily recover on the same day. Would the first to get cleared wait for the other? Or is traveling together just an idea in case it works out?

If Harden is fully healthy and just waiting for Westbrook, how do their teammates inside the bubble feel about that? Those already at Disney World are spending more time away from friends and family in less-than-ideal conditions.

If there’s another issue… who knows?

The lack of transparency around the situation only invites rumors and guesses.

At least it’s good news that Harden feels fine.