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Isiah Thomas

Time to prepare a critical component to postseason success


Posted Apr 19, 2013 3:18 PM

Ernie Johnson, the Emmy award winning Turner Sports broadcaster, asked the question: "What screams NBA playoffs to you?"

This is the best time to play in the NBA, I enjoyed this time of year the most because the level of play and coaching was at its peak. The regular season is long and grueling and the travel is severe and demanding, leaving little time some nights to fully prepare for your opponent. What screams playoffs to me is "time." In the playoffs, the intensity, concentration and energy that goes into every possession is beyond measure. You are rewarded with the most precious commodity in sports, and that commodity is time.

Sixteen teams go forward and fourteen teams go home. With the elimination of 14 teams you have less travel and more time to prepare. Preparation is the key to success in the playoffs. I kept a notebook on every player and team I played against, updating my notebook after every game during the regular season. If a player added a new move, I updated my book. If he struggled going left in one particular game during the regular season, I made a note of it. I made mental notes of his facial reactions under pressure and his body language with his coaches and team mates.

The playoffs provides the opportunity to focus singularly on one team and one individual for seven games or fewer. The coaches will give you video with a breakdown of every single individual on the opposing team. You will know his favorite move and if he prefers to go right or left. You will know that, going right, he shoots 42 percent, and going left he shoots 55 percent. You will know his four basic moves on the perimeter and in the post. You will know all of the opposing team's offensive and defensive sets, patterns and signal calls for the plays they run.

The practices are played like games, the players consuming massive amounts of information about their opponent. Every player will be prepared. The players who will have the edge will be the players who will put in the extra hours after practice, the players who will dedicate the extra time to study and watch film.

** NBA.com playoffs coverage **

When I played I had a gym built inside my house that was a replica of the arena we played in. Once the playoffs started, I would combine the information gathered during the course of the regular season with the new information that was given to me by my coaches and study. I would practice before practice, then practice, I would practice after practice. Then I would go home and eat, take a nap wake up and practice in my gym. All night. I slept in my gym!

Chuck Daly, my Hall of Fame coach, started sending one of his assistant coaches by my house to make sure I wasn't overworking myself. That didn't stop me because I was obsessed with winning. So obsessed that, some days, I would forget to eat or sleep, and when I slept my dreams were of the opponent I was about to face. I had studied him so well I knew the food he ate, the times he slept, the time his team practiced. Understanding the the breath of your opponent is key to knowing when to increase the speed of the game. I knew if he was breathing through his mouth or through his nose. I could tell how much fuel he had left in his tank by the sound or the smell of his breath.

Fatigue makes you weak physically and mentally, and I would wear my opponent down physically then exhaust him mentally when he was too weak to fight back. My job as a point guard was to be the coach on the floor, and to make sure the line of communication that connected the opposing coach and his point guard was severed. The opposing team would not have the luxury of having a coach on the floor. Once that communication and trust was broken between point guard and coach, the opposing team was leaderless. No strategy could be implemented or sustained. emotionally, physically or mentally.

Ernie, I hope that answers your question. Back in the day, there was a famous musical group called "The Time," and the leader's name was Morris Day. He would scream into the microphone before the start of every concert and ask his backup singers, Jesse and Jerome, this question: "What Time is it?"

It's playoff time. I hope you NBA fans are prepared.

Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, a 6-foot-1 guard from Indiana University, was the second pick in the 1981 NBA Draft. He is a 12-time All-Star who played his entire 13-year NBA career with the Detroit Pistons, leading them to back-to-back championships in 1989 and '90. He won two All-Star Game MVPs and was the NBA Finals MVP in '90. Thomas also has been a part owner, executive and coach in the NBA.

He's now an analyst for NBA TV and will be a regular contributor to NBA.com.

You can follow him on Twitter at @iamisiahthomas.

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