Excessive reactions in the NBA 2020-21 opening night: Which stories are real and which are irrelevant

Excessive reactions during the opening are a major issue of NBA discourse. Months without basketball make our first bites seem much more important. What happened in those games has to be what will happen in every game, because for the first time since the previous final these debates are no longer theoretical. They play on the field, and even a small sample is better than none.

In practice, the opening of the night rarely tells us much. Last season began with Kawhie Leonard embarrassing LeBron James on national television, and ended with James lifting the championship trophy for which Leonard didn’t even manage to challenge him. Everything can happen in one game. But the thirst for basketball often tricks us into pretending differently. So, given that almost every NBA team has now played one game, let’s look at five exaggerated reactions that could spring up from the introductory list and how much legitimacy they could have, if they exist at all.

1. We get a new MVP

Giannis Antetokounmpo easily won the last two MVP awards. He deserved it and, in all likelihood, he will deserve to win third. The playoffs have no odds, no player provides greater value night after night than Antetokounmpo. He averaged more points per minute than James Harden, released Shaquille O’Neal caliber efficiency numbers and beat the defensive player of the year. Realistically, this type of production will not be at the top.

But the MVP is a prize driven by narrative, and the feeling entering the season was that Antetokounmpo’s playoff problems would scare voters in his third campaign in a row. Those questions in the playoffs were driven by his vague shots and how that limited Milwaukee’s attack in the late game. So, what happened in Milwaukee’s first defeat tonight from Boston? Antetokounmpo missed an equal free throw with the remaining 0.4 seconds. The game is over. A narrative refreshed in the minds of voters.

Does it make sense? No. Giannis should have entered the season with the same clean score as any other player. But he did not enter the season as the favorite for the award – Luka Dončić – and that speaks of the unfair standards he must achieve. His opener told exactly the same story that his slanderers would have against him: a large number, a loss against an opponent due to his shortcomings in the late game. It’s not fair, but it was just additional proof that someone who is not called Antetokounmpo will win the MVP this season.

2. Washed watch

The following players are on the washed clock:

  • Chris Paul. Age: 35. Initial night stats: 8 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 out of 9 shots, -10 plus-minus.
  • Damian Lillard. Age: 30. Initial night stats: 9 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 out of 12 shots, -21 plus-minus.
  • Stephen Curry. Age: 32. Opening night statistics: 20 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, shooting 7 out of 21, -23 plus-minus.

This is, obviously, ridiculous, but they are players who will probably provoke the anger of critics on the starting night. Paul is closest to credibility, especially after an outstanding preseason, but some of the biggest performances in Phoenix’s opening night were accomplished by a big late theft and a last-minute jumper. That speaks to what his likely role will be with the Suns. He will not be asked to be a star every night. Devin Booker will carry the burden for most games. But if Paul has a steady hand behind the wheel when needed, especially late in games, the way he will provide his value. It’s too early to say he’s washed out, though admittedly at this stage another All-Star embroidery doesn’t seem overly likely.

Lillard, frankly, needed to step back a little. He basically improved every year in the NBA league without a single shooting year or bizarre injury. In the end, he will be hit by bad luck, and this was just one game. It will be good. Curry’s fate is not so clear. A younger version of him might be comfortable in this situation. After all, he scored 47 points nearly beating the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 2019 finals just 18 months ago, and as of now, he played that game without Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson. But at 32 and with his leaner frame, Curry may no longer have the guts to play the way James Harden does evenings, outings. Perhaps he would prefer to play with a star teammate who is currently absent, and that will reduce his efficiency in a weak team. Defenses can boil it like never before. That doesn’t mean he’s washed. So it’s his team.

3. Unfair schedule

Let’s talk for a moment about pointless statistics. Both NBA finalists, the Lakers and the Heat, lost seasons as favorites. Western Conference runner-up Denver Nuggets also lost their starting favorite as a home favorite from the low Sacramento Kings, and their loss occurred in overtime, when endurance can be considered a factor. Second-placed Eastern Conference Boston Celtics needed a miracle to be hit by Jayson Tatum to avoid their initial duel with the Milwaukee Bucks as winners. Their reward is a blend with Durant and seemingly unstoppable nets on Christmas. The Lakers, Heat and Nuggets are also facing tough Christmas games.

Let’s face it: the four of them are playing at a competitive disadvantage. Even if they extended their rest before the balloon, their limited rest after that will force them all into tough choices about how to manage their schedules in a crowded regular season. Because of their health, they will probably lose more games than they should otherwise. and this will harm their post-season seed. These are the four best teams in the NBA league. They can all win road games. But this will be a delayed overreaction. In May and June, one of these teams will get a rebound in the playoffs and people will wonder if their lack of rest is to blame for that. The opening of the evening might corroborate these arguments a bit. But in the end, the chances that any of these teams don’t have a month off until the championship are slim. The Lakers are big favorites even in the given circumstances. The remaining three lead the battle uphill.

4. Who is ready for the Hawks-Jazz finals?

We knew the Clippers would be good. Brooklyn was a riskier bet, but the turnaround was huge. But let’s deal with Wednesday’s biggest winners: the Hawks and Jazz, who both broke their opponents on their way to a 20-point win.

Trae Young has carried the worst NBA list in the last two seasons. Atlanta opted for free agency upgrades, and the results were historic. Young scored 37 points on 12 shots, the first in NBA league history since the merger. More importantly, the non-Young Hawks actually kept their end of the deal. A total of seven Atlanta players reached double-digit figures, two of whom, critically, came down from the bench. The Hawks were bad in Young’s minutes last season, but startlingly terrible when he went to the bench. Garbage weather distorted the opening night plus-minus, but the Atlanta bench actually survived without its best player. With him? The hawks looked unstoppable.

So did the Utah team who seemingly sacrificed a defensive foul by adding Derrick Favorizori this season. When they initially let him go in 2019, it was done to increase the gap around Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert by bringing Bojan Bogdanovic to shoot 3 more threes. Well, the Favors played on Wednesday, and Utah still tried 50 three-pointers. That space helped the Favors shoot off the field in 16 minutes on the bench, and the Jazz suffocated one of the best fouls in basketball by holding the Portland Trail Blazers to 100 points (and Damian Lillard to nine). This is the vision Utah has had since Mitchell made it: to strike a balance between the range to play an elite attack without betraying the defense that formed their identity. The opening of the evening was the closest they had ever done.

The final is probably a bit ambitious for both groups, but a recalibration of expectations could be in order for both sides. Utah is usually seen, at least, outside the upper western level occupied by two teams from Los Angeles. Atlanta dropped to seventh or worse in most preseason rankings in the East. But neither season is surprising, and if these two are playing like in the opening, they may need a higher level at their conferences.

5. COVID will ruin the season

Two games. We went through two games on Tuesday night before the first wave of COVID-related problems delayed the game. It is not known when the Rockets will be able to take the floor again. It cannot be said whether any of the players currently reporting positive tests could have infected others during the preseason. The NBA needed a bubble to break through last season. Without one? Starting the season in the middle of a pandemic was simply too dangerous.

This is an exaggerated reaction based on what happened in Houston, but not on what is happening in the country. Infection rates remain high. For most of us, the vaccine is still a few months away. As much as the NBA could be optimistic about the health and fitness of its players, the league already had one player who dealt with prolonged symptoms in Mo Bambi. It is difficult to say anything definitive about the coronavirus. At this point, we just don’t know what impact it will have on the season. The “Sky Fall” audience may be too early, but the dangers of playing basketball in the middle of a pandemic are real.

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