Restart, but with conditioning
How soon players get into game shape will be huge factor
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Heat seemed eager to break a sweat and play full-court basketball. After all, they had not done this for nearly four months because the NBA halted the season because of the coronavirus.
When the Heat started their first scrimmage, though, the team’s coaching and medical staff soon realized they’d made a mistake. So only three minutes into the scrimmage, the Heat ended it.
“Everybody was looking at us like, ‘That’s it?’ ” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra recalled. “But everybody was hunched over and grabbing their shorts.”
That scene has become a familiar sight as the NBA prepares for its season restart without fans Thursday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Not only have the 22 participating teams fretted over following the league’s health and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, but most also are not in game shape months after the league paused March 11.
“Are we in the kind of shape we need to be in like we were in March? No,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s going to take time.”
How much time will that take? The answer partly depends on the player.
The Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George said they healed from various injuries and stayed disciplined with quarantined workouts. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Raptors center Marc Gasol and Rockets guard James Harden reported trimming body fat during the hiatus.
A handful of players also have missed part or all of practices because of positive COVID-19 tests or undisclosed reasons.
But even for those who trained frequently during the quarantine, the options were limited. Players were confined to Zoom workouts in March and April, teams opened up their facilities for voluntary individual workouts in May, and only a handful of NBA players had access to a private hoop or gym.
“We’re not going to rush any guys back,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “The biggest concern we have as an organization is guys sustaining some of those soft-tissue injuries, which are most prevalent when you take four months off and you get back to playing at a high level.”
That could take a few more weeks — depending on a team’s place in the standings.
“I anticipate we’re going to try to bring them along at a pace that we’re still using these seedin games to get to where we want to be,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re not trying to force it so everybody is in midseason mode by the beginning of the seed-in games. I think those are still part of the build-up.”
Some other NBA teams do not have such a luxury.
“For a team like us and the situation we’re in, these are the eight most important games in a year,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “With the Clippers or the Lakers, it’s really an extended training camp for them. Depending on where you are in the standings and importance of the games, that dictates what pace you will move at.”
Kings coach Luke Walton says he wants his team “to be as close of a peak that we can for July 31st” when it resumes its season. The Kings have consulted their medical staff to determine when to have light or heavy practices or a day off completely. Though the Pelicans have a young roster, coach Alvin Gentry plans to expand his rotation so he doesn’t tax any of his players with heavy minutes.
Because the Lakers anticipate they could play through the NBA
Finals in October, Vogel spent his initial practices focused on individual workouts and defensive slides before gradually expanding to full-court work. With the Clippers also dealing with the preapproved absences of Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams, coach Doc Rivers has recorded his practices on Zoom for any of his missing players to watch.
“There’s no breaks in practice, so you tend to not go as long,” Rivers said. “You feel like you don’t get half the stuff in that you want to get in. So it’s been a challenge.”
Rivers is pleased that his players followed his messages by “winning the wait.” The Heat and Raptors had their players complete weight check-ins a few times each week to ensure they stayed disciplined with their training and dieting.
“I don’t think that’s going to be as big of a concern as it may have been,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “The league did a nice job with adjusting the schedule to accommodate for that.’’
Teams arrived in Orlando, Florida, between July 7 and 9 and have played three scrimmages — with real games set for Thursday.
“All of these guys are doing a great job in taking care of themselves,” Donovan said. “The medical staff has done a great job with laying out a plan in letting those guys understand it’s going to take us some time.”
But unlike during the Heat’s first scrimmage, they won’t be able to call off the game.
NBA stars Kawhi Leonard (left) and LeBron James said the fourmonth hiatus gave them time to heal.