Prac­tices be­gin at Dis­ney as NBA teams be­gin restart rou­tines

The Maui News - - Sports - By TIM REYNOLDS The As­so­ci­ated Press

Nikola Vuce­vic had to raise his voice a bit to an­swer a ques­tion. He had just walked off the court af­ter the first Or­lando Magic prac­tice of the restart, and some of his team­mates re­mained on the floor while en­gaged in a loud and en­thu­si­as­tic shoot­ing con­test.

Af­ter four months, bas­ket­ball was truly back.

Full-scale prac­tices in­side the NBA bub­ble at the Dis­ney com­plex started Thurs­day, with the Magic — the first team to get into the cam­pus ear­lier this week — be­com­ing the first team for­mally back on the floor. By the close of busi­ness Thurs­day, all 22 teams par­tic­i­pat­ing in the restart were to be checked into their ho­tel and be­gin­ning their iso­la­tion from the rest of the world for what will be sev­eral weeks at least. And by Satur­day, all teams should have prac­ticed at least once.

“It’s great to be back af­ter four months,” Vuce­vic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were com­ing in Thurs­day, the Los Angeles Lak­ers and Philadel­phia 76ers among them. Lak­ers for­ward LeBron James lamented say­ing farewell to his fam­ily, and 76ers for­ward Joel Em­biid — who raised some eye­brows ear­lier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restart­ing the sea­son in a bub­ble — showed up for his team’s flight in what ap­peared to be a full haz­mat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bub­ble. … Hated to leave the (hash­tag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twit­ter.

An­other last-day ar­rival at the Dis­ney cam­pus was the reign­ing NBA cham­pion Toronto Rap­tors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Fla. — they’ve been there for about two weeks, train­ing at Florida Gulf Coast Univer­sity — for the trip to the bub­ble. The buses were spe­cially wrapped for the oc­ca­sion, with the Rap­tors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Mat­ter” dis­played on the sides.

Brook­lyn, Utah, Wash­ing­ton and Phoenix all were down to prac­tice Thurs­day, along with the Magic. Den­ver was

orig­i­nally sched­uled to, then pushed back its open­ing ses­sion to to­day. By Satur­day, prac­tices will be con­stant — 22 teams work­ing out at var­i­ous times in a win­dow span­ning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven dif­fer­ent fa­cil­i­ties.

Ex­hi­bi­tion games be­gin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brook­lyn in­terim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkin­son less than a week be­fore the March 11 sus­pen­sion of the sea­son be­cause of the coro­n­avirus. “I think that was the most ex­cit­ing thing. We got a lit­tle con­di­tion­ing un­der­neath us. Didn’t go too hard af­ter the quar­an­tine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a lit­tle bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days af­ter ar­riv­ing be­fore they could get on the prac­tice floor. Many play­ers have passed the time with video games; with the Heat not prac­tic­ing for the first time un­til to­day, Mi­ami cen­ter Mey­ers Leonard has been giv­ing fans glimpses of ev­ery­thing, from his gam­ing setup to his room ser­vice order for his first din­ner at Dis­ney — re­plete with lob­ster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talk­ing point so far, es­pe­cially af­ter a hand­ful of play­ers turned to so­cial me­dia to share what got por­trayed as less-than-su­perb meals dur­ing the brief quar­an­tine pe­riod.

“For the most part, ev­ery­thing has been pretty good in my opin­ion,” Nets guard Joe Har­ris said. “They’ve done a good job tak­ing care of us and mak­ing sure to ac­com­mo­date us in ev­ery area as much as pos­si­ble.”

Learn­ing the cam­pus has been an­other key for the first few days, and that process likely will con­tinue for a while since teams will be us­ing all sorts of dif­fer­ent fa­cil­i­ties while get­ting back into the prac­tice rou­tine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vuce­vic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re go­ing to try to make the best out of it. I re­ally think the NBA did the best they could to make this as good as they can for us. And once we start play­ing, you’re not go­ing to be think­ing about the lit­tle things.”

AP file photo

Cars drive un­der a sign greet­ing vis­i­tors near the en­trance to Walt Dis­ney World on July 2. By the close of busi­ness Thurs­day, all 22 teams par­tic­i­pat­ing in the NBA restart were to be checked in at the Florida re­sort.

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