A ‘Home’ Game

Pistons will do their best to prepare bodies for best efforts in London

Head coach Lawrence Frank will try to maintain normalcy during the Pistons' trip to London.
Ray Amati/NBAE/Getty Images
Travel is a part of everyday NBA life, but traveling across oceans to other continents is not. So Monday night’s trip to London offers a different set of challenges. It would be one thing if the Pistons were headed there to see where the Beatles strolled across Abbey Road or to visit Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard.

But they’re going to play a for-real basketball game – a home game, at that – against the team with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, New York. They don’t need the further impediments made possible by extended air travel, including dehydration, joint inflammation and jet lag.

To that end, Pistons players began preparing their bodies immediately after Saturday night’s game with Utah, the second of a back-to-back set that started with Friday’s win at Milwaukee.

“We want to make sure our hydration, our electrolyte levels, are restored early on,” said Arnie Kander, strength and conditioning coach and general guru of all things related to fitness and nutrition. “If you wait until the flight, it’s too late. You have to get things done prior. We actually started after Saturday’s game. We came off a back to back, one day of recovery, practiced today, long flight and we’re right into stuff when we get there.”

Kander will provide each player with a specially designed pair of stockings, similar to vascular socks, to prevent swelling of the feet and ankles. The Pistons are scheduled to depart Detroit around 10 p.m. Monday and land in London at 11 a.m. local time Tuesday, accounting for the five-hour time difference. After checking into the team hotel and meeting there with NBA officials on security matters, they will continue to an area gym.

The purpose of that activity – it won’t really be a practice – will be to work out the kinks associated with being airborne and to help players adjust to the time difference instead of going to sleep in mid-afternoon and throwing their body clocks completely askew.

“You want to stretch yourself,” Lawrence Frank said after Monday’s practice as support staff buzzed around making sure all of the necessary supplies and equipment were packed for loading. “You’re going to be hunched over. You want to go smell the gym. After meeting with NBA security, we’ll go to the gym, get some shots up, get up and down a little bit, just to get your body back. Then practice hard on Wednesday – you only have a two-hour window (at the O2 Arena, where the game will be played) – shootaround Thursday and play the game Thursday night.”

The Pistons are accustomed to flying west and gaining three hours as they typically take two trips to the West Coast each season to play the six NBA teams located in Pacific time zone cities. This time, they’re flying east and losing five hours.

“I’m curious how it’s going to work out,” Tayshaun Prince said. “But more curious how things are going to work when we come back and fight to get our legs before Sunday’s game (against Boston at The Palace). But both ways can be tough. The good thing is we get over and get a couple of days. Hopefully, we’ll be all right that way.”

Frank took his New Jersey team to Paris and London for preseason games, which helped shape his decision to take the team right to a Tuesday practice. Kander agreed that getting in the gym almost immediately is the right course.

“You’re always going to deal with circadian rhythms, so that will definitely be off when we get there,” he said. “Us doing a little something when we get there is a good thing. It immediately gets you up and into stuff right away. If you’re just sitting around and not doing anything structured, there’s a tendency to want to stay in bed all day – then you’re really off rhythm.”

Kander’s instructions to players on the flight will be to busy themselves for a few hours after takeoff, then try to get some sleep.

“Our guys, this is what they do, so they’re used to having to sleep on planes. Because it’s a longer flight, guys might want to play cards or do something that will keep them awake. Do that for a short duration, but not the entire flight and then try to catch up on your sleep when you get there. If they can catch four hours, I’d be happy with that. Do what we do tomorrow, then everyone will be so tired they’ll go to bed at 8 or 9 o’clock, which will feel like 2 or 3 in the morning. Then we’re right back in our normal rhythm.”

The good news?

“Sometimes, it’s actually easier flying the (direction) we are to start a trip,” he said. “Coming back will probably be tougher. That’s another story for another day.”

In all areas, Kander stresses the importance of maintaining normalcy to keep bodies healthy and in a comfort zone. He’s telling players to sample different foods, but keep main courses to the familiar.

“There’s no time for experimentation,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you can’t taste things or have little bits, but I wouldn’t make it the main thing. This isn’t the time to change an entire element of your body.”

Though the trip takes the Pistons out of the daily routine that coaches come to rely upon, Frank remembers the O2’s atmosphere and is looking forward to the reception from Londoners.

“There is great enthusiasm,” he said. “It’s a really great environment. The O2 fans are extremely excited to see NBA basketball. It’ll be a fun place play. London is a beautiful city. And at the end of the day, you’re there to go win a game.”