Time Management

With 7 more January back-to-backs ahead, practice is precious for Pistons

In the absence of practice time, the Pistons will need to work out their kinks during their many road games.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
Here’s the reality of a 66-game NBA season shoehorned into four months: The Pistons practiced on Thursday and flew to Philadelphia, where they will play the 76ers on Friday – the third opposition home opener they will have played already. For the rest of this month, there will be 17 games in the 26 remaining days. After back-to-back games – and the Pistons have seven such sets in January, including the first two of a back-to-back-to-back that spans January and February – NBA teams typically do not practice, though they don’t exactly take the day off, either.

And that leaves a grand total of … wait for it … THREE practice days at Lawrence Frank’s disposal between now and February. For a new coach. Implementing new offensive and defensive systems. After a training camp that lasted all of a week. And a preseason limited to a home-and-home set with Cleveland.

“Yeah, players are upset about that,” Frank joked about the paucity of practices possible.

So Frank must improvise. He’ll utilize hotel ballrooms to conduct walk-throughs. Shootarounds – the morning practices on game days that typically last an hour – have stretched to nearly two hours and involving more video study than the usual edited clips of the opposition’s favorite plays. Those days after two-a-days, when players typically come in to receive treatment and individual instruction from assistant coaches, might also include teaching points.

“That’s why film sessions are so vital, shootarounds are so vital,” Frank said. “There may be some mental days as opposed to physical days during those back-to-backs. It’s not like it’s a day off, but so there’s not the pounding. When we say ‘days off,’ they’re in the gym. They just don’t have to hear from me. It’s a day off from the coach. We may have to make some of those mental skull sessions, as well.

“There’s so much stuff we’re seeing for the first time because of a condensed training camp and a new group that we have to spend time with stuff, not just introducing it but working on it. There’s only so much practice time you have. That’s just part of the compromise of what goes on during a shortened season. We can’t skip steps, so we can’t ignore it.”

The Philly game marks the opening of a stretch of four games in five nights, all against formidable opponents. The Pistons return Saturday to host the Knicks, struggling despite All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire at forward surrounding high-priced free agent Tyson Chandler in the middle. They’ll travel to Chicago Sunday for a Monday rematch with the Bulls, who won at The Palace on Wednesday, then come back home to host reigning NBA champion Dallas on Tuesday. The next day, they pack up for another back-to-back with Milwaukee and Charlotte.

Complicating matters for Frank, Rodney Stuckey will be a game-time decision at Philadelphia after missing the second half of the Chicago game with a left groin strain.

“We won’t know until later tomorrow after we run the full course of treatment,” Frank said. To patch the hole against Chicago, Frank used Will Bynum in the backcourt for 16 minutes and swung Damien Wilkins, who has emerged as Tayshaun Prince’s backup at small forward over Austin Daye, to guard to pick up the rest of the slack.

“We have an idea of what we would do,” Frank said in the event Stuckey is unavailable. “Maybe a little bit different from what you’re thinking.”

Under more typical circumstances, Frank said that in the past he’s cognizant of minutes heading into a four-in-five stretch.

“The first game, if you can shorten minutes a little bit,” he said. “The second game, you may sub a little bit earlier. But, by and large, you’re trying to win that game.”

Bottom line, Frank intends to show up for the remaining 60 games no matter when they’re scheduled and play to win each of them.

“Give me a violin – no one cares,” he said. “This is the NBA. This is what every schedule deals with. There are no excuses. Trust me, when we take the floor against Philly, their home opener, they’ll have no sympathy for us. Just like the next night, when we play New York. Or Milwaukee or Dallas. That’s what this is.”