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.