How long will it take for NBA teams to get in shape with the season restart looming?
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Miami 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 novel coronavirus.
When the Heat started their first scrimmage, though, the team’s coaching and medical staff soon realized they made a mistake. So only three minutes into the scrimmage, the Heat ended it.
“Everybody was looking at us like, ‘That’s it?’” Heat (41-24) 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 Thursday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex without fans. Not only have the 22 participating teams fretted over following the league’s health and safety protocols to maximize safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, but most also are not in game shape after the league paused March 11.
“Are we in the kind of shape we need to be in like we were in March? No,” Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24) coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s going to take time.”
How much time will that take as the season gets set to resume July 30? That answer partly depends on the player.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the L.A. Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George said they healed from various injuries and stayed disciplined with quarantined workouts. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol and Houston Rockets guard James Harden reported trimming their body fat during the hiatus.
The league also has had a handful of players who missed part or all of practices because of positive COVID-19 cases or undisclosed reasons.
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But even for those who trained frequently during quarantine, the options were limited. Players remained 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 (43-22) 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 seed-in games to get to where we want to be,” Lakers (49-14) coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re not trying to force it so everybody is in mid-season 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 most eight important games in a year,” Magic (30-35) coach Steve Clifford said. “With the Clippers (44-20) or the Lakers, it’s really it’s 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 the season. The Kings (28-36) 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 that he does not 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 dealing with pre-approved absences as well to Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams for personal reasons, 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,” Portland (29-37) 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 7-9, and will have played three scrimmages by Tuesday — 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, though, they won't be able to call off the game.