When the Going Gets Tough ...
Including Tuesday night’s win over Charlotte, the Cavaliers will play seven games in nine days – including their only back-to-back-to-back of the season this weekend – traveling to Indiana on Friday, Washington on Saturday and returning home to face the Magic on Sunday. They’ll take Monday off, face the Pistons on Tuesday in Motown and the Sixers at The Q one night later.
For starters, everyone will have to play the same 66 games in the end. Secondly, the Cavs have gotten lucky so far – tying Memphis and San Antonio for the fewest games (55) to date. And lastly, because Coach Byron Scott just won’t have it.
Scott was drafted in 1983 and by then the league was entering into the modern era of travel and scheduling. But he played with guys who, like Austin Carr, routinely played three games in three nights or remained out West for two weeks at a time. (A.C. loves to tell the story of how, as a rookie, he had to also tote the team’s film projector on the road.)
“If those guys could do it back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and they didn’t have any of the technology that we have … they didn’t do anything that we do as far as training,” quipped Scott. “Matter of fact, most of them were smoking at halftime and they were still playing three games in a row.
“If they could do it, there’s no way we shouldn’t be able to do it. And that’s kind of how I look at it. That’s old school.”
(When Scott was asked to recall the biggest smoker from his day, the reply was immediate: “Vlade Divac,” said Scott, adding, “It didn’t take him long to stop. Playing for (Pat Riley) with all the running – sooner or later you figure you’re going to have to give up one. And I think he said: ‘I better give up the cigarettes.’”)
So it’s safe to say the Cavaliers won’t be getting much sympathy from their old school head coach. But Byron Scott also realizes that in any era a team needs to re-charge its batteries.
The Cavaliers have had a pair of team-building excursions in recent weeks – a break from the everyday push to rest them up for the final stretch. There was a somber, reflective stop at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on March 20 and a fun day in the sun – at a driving range in Orlando later on that road trip.
“Any NBA season is tough, and sometimes you need a break,” said Coach Scott afterward. “You need to break up the monotony of just going day-to-day on basketball. So we’ve done a couple different things, but right now it’s trying to find something new … where they don’t think about it as much and just have a relaxing day and then get back into the grind. Because it’s not going to go away until April 26.”
Since then, it’s been all business for the Wine and Gold. And the heavy stuff is about to come down. Even after they get past the seven-in-nine, there are two more back-to-backs before season’s end.
As tough as this year’s Lockout-condensed schedule can be for the veterans, it might be even tougher on the team’s rookies. Kyrie Irving famously played just 11 games in his single season at Duke; Tristan Thompson, only 36 regular season games at Texas.
But Thompson – who doubled-up on Sunday in New Jersey – insists he’s feeling good and hasn’t hit the infamous “Rookie Wall.” But he still admits he’s never faced a schedule like Cleveland’s in April.
“No, definitely not,” said the freshman forward. “It’s going to really test us and see where our guts are at. The key is to keep playing hard and the rest will take care of itself. As long as we compete, it’ll work out pretty well for us.”
Thompson says the team’s advice is pretty simple: rest up, stay hydrated and …
“Stick to your routine. Coach Scott’s done the same routine for 15-plus years, so if you can develop good habits like that, you’ll be pretty good in this league,” he said.
One young Cavalier who’s conditioned for the final push is Omri Casspi, who’s done so with some high stakes.
“When we play the European Championships in the summer, that’s how our schedule is,” said Casspi. “(We play) three games in the first round, and then you have a day off, then you have another three games and whoever goes up, moves on. And no matter what, you’ll play another two games – so it’s eight games.”
And that’s not all.
“And it’s even worse than the NBA because in Europe you can play a game at 9 at night and the next day at 2:45 in the afternoon,” he continued. “You can’t really get used to it. But in a sense, I’ve been through it. Not at this level – but European players have been through it, especially in the summer.”
Newcomer Donald Sloan has bounced around since his Texas A&M days and, in order to join the Barangay Ginebra Kings of the Philippine Basketball Association, left on a flight Sunday night and arrived on Wednesday morning – just in time for practice.
But Sloan’s never faced a gauntlet of games like the Cavaliers will play in the next week.
“Nothing like that; it’s unheard of for me,” said Sloan. “But we have good facilities, good recovery treatments, good everything that’ll help us get through it. We have a great staff and they’re on-point when it comes to having our bodies right to play the next day.”
Asked if Trainer Max Benton and the staff had any advice for him during the upcoming run …
“Pretty much,” Sloan smiled. “After the game, come see him.”
Max and his staff should be busy over the next few days, but not as busy as the guys waiting for space on their training table – from now until April 26.