The Miami Heat just wrapped up two consecutive days of practice, which is significant for this reason: It might not happen again for a while.
How long? March isn’t out of the question.
Practice time is something that will be in short supply around the NBA this season; teams are basically playing every other day, and that — along with travel and mandated days off — realistically leaves time for no more than two practices per week. Given that teams also had fewer preseason games than usual along with shorter training camps, there just hasn’t been as much time to teach and ease into a year as most coaches would like.
And the hectic pace will last pretty much all season.
“I think you need to adjust and at least we’re all on an even playing field, so it’s all relative,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If you have a day in between, you still have an opportunity to improve. And it might not be a training camp practice, but you can get some things accomplished even when you have games. Just have to balance everything.”
The Heat just finished their longest break of the first half — three full days off, sandwiched between a Christmas game against New Orleans and the start of a home back-to-back against Milwaukee that begins Tuesday. For comparison’s sake, Miami has a four-game trip in early January during which it will practice no more than once.
Miami isn’t alone. Every NBA team will have similar practice quandaries, which comes with the territory of having plenty of four-game weeks. It could be argued that without a lot of practice time, getting off to good starts — like Indiana, Cleveland and Orlando, all of which are 3-0 — might be of even more importance this season.
“It’s good for a couple of reasons,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Obviously, you want to take the wins as you can. But what it does is, in a time of growth, it gives you belief. And when they find success — and the ultimate success for us is wins — that gives guys faith in what we’re doing.”
A faster pace on offense and a more aggressive defense have helped the Pacers start hot. The Cavaliers have gotten it done so far with veteran big men and a young backcourt proving to be a good mix. The Magic are following a similar blueprint; point guards Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony are combining to average nearly 30 points per game so far. And without an abundance of practice time to clean up matters, getting wins into the bank early is a big deal for Orlando.
“We don’t have two days off again until February 3,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “We’ll be able to practice some and we’ll be able to do some shootarounds, but you want to have the right energy and intensity for the games. So, practice time is going to be limited.”
New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy has a smart way to look at the issue: Why, he wonders, should the opportunity to improve come only from practice? His perspective: Games are practice as well.
“You should be getting better as games go on if you have a focus,” Van Gundy said. “I’m no different than any other coach. All of us would probably like to get more practice time. It’s not there, and so you have got to get better in games, you have to get better in your walkthroughs, and you have to get better in everything you do.”